Children with complex needs forced into home education as 'last resort', warns Ofsted

Home education is often the “last resort” of parents of secondary school children with complex needs after their relationship with school has broken down, Ofsted has warned.

The inspectorate’s new research has called for changes to legislation to ensure that agencies including schools and local authorities provide more support to home educated children and their parents. The watchdog has warned it may be evidence of off-rolling if a school writes a letter to remove a child to home education on behalf of a parent.

It also said it would be “good practice” for schools to provide parents with pupils’ previous class work when they move to home education, and called on the Department for Education to look at how much consideration is given to the views of children in current legislation.

The number of home educated children is rising rapidly. According to Ofsted, in autumn last year there were 58,000 being educated at home – an increase of 27 per cent on the previous year.

The DfE has announced plans for a compulsory register of all home schooled children. However, many home-educating parents vehemently oppose the idea.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, said children should not be moved to home education “simply to resolve difficulties in school”, and it was important to ensure home education “is genuinely in the interests of children and not just the best thing for schools or parents.”

Ofsted’s report warned there was “growing evidence” that a “disproportionate number” of pupils who are removed from the roll of secondary schools and do not attend an alternative setting have special educational needs, are from disadvantaged backgrounds or are known to social care.

The study focused on the East Midlands, and included the views of 16 local authority representatives, 36 senior leaders of secondary schools, 31 parents and seven children.

The report warned some schools “coerce parents to remove a child”. All the parents Ofsted spoke to removed their child because of a “breakdown in the relationship” with school. In some cases parents felt the school’s lack of support was “deliberately designed” to encourage children to leave.

“Parents in our research commonly viewed home education as the only option for them,” the report said.

“Parents we spoke to had often moved away from school rather than choosing a better education in the home…. when we asked parents what prompted the move to home education, none mentioned the benefits of home education.”

Some parents removed their children from school despite knowing they were not able to educate them. One told Ofsted: “I made it clear I’ve not got the experience or funds for home schooling and I’ve made that clear to the authorities. So my daughter is receiving nothing at all.”

School leaders also reported cuts to in-school and wider support services had made it difficult to support some children, and said some parents home educate because they struggle with school policies or want to avoid fines or prosecution for non-attendance.

However, the report also found evidence of schools “giving parents an ultimatum – permanent exclusion or leave” or pursuing fines when “a reasonable adjustment for a disability would have been more appropriate.” It also found that, in some extreme cases, the process to remove a child can take just one day.

“It is clear that prosecution for non-attendance and permanent exclusions are sometimes a trigger for moves to home education. The reasons behind this are complex, and at worst may include gaming from schools or neglectful parenting.”