Free school rapped for off-rolling after 'encouraging parents to home-educate children'

A free school has been criticised by Ofsted after inspectors found it encouraged parents to home-educate or find different schools for their children.

Heyford Park Free School, in Oxfordshire, has been rated ‘inadequate’ and told to “eliminate the practice of off-rolling”.

Heyford Park’s report, published on Friday, warned that senior leaders and trustees “have failed in their statutory duty to ensure that the school provides an inclusive education”, including failing to make reasonable adjustments for pupils with special needs.

“Senior leaders have engaged in taking some pupils off the register by encouraging some parents to home-educate or to seek different schools for their children.”

The report said trustees must “hold leaders accountable for progress of all groups of pupils and eliminate the practice of off-rolling”.

A spokesperson for the school said it had commissioned an external expert to investigate Ofsted’s findings by “scrutinising all those who have left the school recently”.

“We are very carefully monitoring the circumstances surrounding all pupils leaving the school.”

They added that the school principal had an extended absence from the school following a cancer diagnosis, which has “had an impact on our school over the past year”. The school, run by single-academy trust The Heyfordian School Trust, has now appointed a new interim executive principal.

The number of home educated pupils has risen sharply in the past few years. A report from the children’s commissioner in February found there were almost 60,000 home educated children at any one time in England in 2017-18, although the precise figure is unknown because they do not currently have to be registered.

The Department for Education has consulted on creating a register of home-schooled pupils, but its response was delayed by the general election.

At least 10 schools have now been identified as ‘off-rolling’ by Ofsted.

Heyford Park had been rated ‘good’ in April 2015, and this was upheld in a short inspection in November 2018 – almost exactly one year before inspectors found the school was ‘inadequate’ in November 2019.

The report also found that pupils do not feel safe at school, with behaviour too often “boisterous and disruptive”, and said the learning environment “for many is not a happy one”.

The quality of education was described by inspectors as “inadequate” and the report said pupils’ “chances of success are hampered by previous and ongoing weak teaching.”

However, the report did note early improvements to attendance and GCSE English outcomes, while leadership in early years and the sixth form was described as “stronger”.

Heyford’s spokesperson said the school is “disappointed” with the findings but “focusing all our energy on improvements for the school as a whole”. This has included a review of all safeguarding processes and the school’s behaviour policy and the appointment of a new special needs coordinator.