Spin Alert! – The Guardian and Off-Rolling

Note: This Byte reporting on mid-January media coverage of the OSA Annual Report was due for release earlier this month. However, publication was delayed due to a surge in media interest following the publication of the Children’s Commissioner for England report, Skipping School: Invisible Children on 1 February.

What’s been said?

A recent Byte covered the OSA’s [Office of the Schools Adjudicator] Report on the academic year 2017-18 by its Chief Adjudicator Shan Scott, published in December 2018.

At least two national newspapers also carried articles based on this.

Education Editor Richard Adams wrote in The Guardian (17 Jan), with HE conspicuous in both the headline “Schools pushing children into home schooling, say councils“, and sub-title “Watchdog told that parents are coerced into home educating, often before GCSEs.”

Dave Speck’s piece for the Tes on 18 Jan “Extreme concern’ over schools rejecting vulnerable pupils” only featured HE in the sub-title: “Watchdog also warns of schools off-rolling by ‘coercing’ parents into home education – even giving them a letter to sign.”

The original report was comprehensive, covering topics from right across the OSA’s remit, with only a dozen paragraphs out of just over one hundred containing HE-related content. Adams’ account majors on HE-related issues, whereas Speck’s piece gives more of a balanced review of the whole OSA Report.

After noting the increasing numbers of children now in HE and various Local Authority comments from the report, Adam chooses to focus on the apparently widespread issue of off-rolling – “the practice of a school shifting pupils off its rolls without using formal exclusion processes”.

He notes Ofsted’s concerns about off-rolling (see p50 in their 2018 Annual Report), as well as a past Guardian report on off-rolling at St Olave’s in Orpington, and concludes with the issue of inadequate numbers of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds being selected for grammar schools.

Speck opens with concerns raised by the OSA about schools off-rolling pupils and the “difficulties faced by vulnerable children in gaining school places if they have been forced to change schools mid-year”. He also supports Shan Scott’s concerns over “capping”, when schools that are their own admissions authorities say there are no places available in a certain year group, despite their allocated number of admissions being unmet.

He notes LA reports of admission authorities’ reluctance to sanction in year admissions of “any child in Year 6 (Y6) or in key stage 4,” as well as those with potentially challenging behaviour or SEND (the latter due to lack of resources). Admission problems for looked after children, and coerced home education are also included in Speck’s write-up.

Why does it matter?

If you read only the Guardian article on the OSA Report, it would be easy to take home the impression that Scott’s chief concern was HE. (The reporter could of course conceivably have wanted to influence you to perceive HE as a “problem”). Comparing the Guardian article with the Tes one would modify that opinion significantly, as Speck’s report is more comprehensive and provides a balanced overview of a range of problems being faced within the school system.

What can I do?

As we previously pointed out with reference to the OSA Report, the increasing official interest in HE as well as its increased uptake are both noteworthy, but if you want to track down all the facts of the matter, there is nothing like going back to the source material and reading the relevant paragraphs on HE for yourself.

As you try to keep up to date with media reports featuring home education, be aware that spin and bias are common – as illustrated by Lucinda Borrell’s recent Telegraph Magazine article.