Ofsted has rapped a council after discovering potential off-rolling of children in care, with the number of pupils educated at home shooting up more than 20 per cent.
The watchdog does not name the schools and will only report on the alleged practices if they continue once full inspections resume in the summer term.
Ofsted’s remote visit of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council’s children’s services in October culminated in a critical letter published this week.
It said there were “too many children in care being excluded from schools, and some are excluded permanently” and there was “not an established culture in which schools hold one another to account for the use of exclusion”.
Between September 2019 and the time of the visit, the number of children educated at home jumped from 478 to 580 – more than 20 per cent.
Ofsted concluded there was “no evidence that the local authority is challenging schools with higher numbers of pupils moving into elective home education that could, potentially, be off-rolling pupils”.
It told the council it could improve by developing plans to “prevent exclusions from school for children in care”, and noted the council’s inclusion team was establishing a “preventing exclusion panel”.
Previous inspection reports did not contribute to the team’s findings, it said.
Ofsted has been carrying out assurance visits to local authorities since September to consider if they are making the best decisions for children in care during the pandemic.
Analysis from Schools Week found that nine of the ten children’s services visits conducted since September mentioned a rise in the number of children being home-educated, although, the watchdog recognised many councils had effective processes in place to track such changes.
For example at Slough Borough Council, it was noted “a more rigorous system for identifying children who are not in formal education” had been introduced. This identified more children missing education and the improved tracking systems were “increasingly effective in promoting children’s return to attending school”.
Last month the Association of Directors of Children’s Services revealed that the number of children withdrawn from school for elective home education had soared by 38 per cent in the past year – jumping from 54,656 to 75,668.
Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, previously warned that “fake news” around Covid-19 fuelled the rise in home-education as “parents were concerned about the safety of their children”.
A BCP spokesperson said the number of exclusions in its schools were beginning to reduce this term . It has also reduced the number of children in care missing out on education from 42 in July to 8 in October.
They added the council takes allegations of off-rolling seriously and had increased the capacity of its inclusion service to “enhance our challenge of schools and support to parents where” home education is being considered.