At present it is virtually impossible to work out exactly what is being considered for home education in England, variously described as “tightening up” “increased regulation” or “clamping down”, but what DOES seem clear is that schools and local councils will be given more responsibility for keeping accurate records when children are taken out of school. It also seems likely that supplementary education provision will come under greater scrutiny ie in settings which don’t meet the threshold for registration as an independent school.
UPDATED DECEMBER 28TH TO ADD HOUSE OF COMMONS BRIEFING ON EXTREMISM, DECEMBER 23RD DfE HAS NOT CONFIRMED INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY REPORT
Some people have been commenting as though the proposals for registering out of school settings will also apply to the arrangements parents make for their children at home, and/or that what is proposed for out-of-school settings is somehow the same as “closing down illegal schools.”
In early August I reported barrister Ian Dowty’s warning:
When asked about the biggest likely threat to home education freedoms – excluding the new Guidance for Wales – Ian pointed to recent Government statements about radicalisation/potential terrorist activity and monitoring the whereabouts of children taken out of school. Link 1 + Link 2 + Link 3 (Ofsted recommendation monitor children taken out of schools)
On October 7th I flagged up the report in Schools Week about inspecting Sunday schools and madrasas.
On October 12th I ran the following item in my regular email newsletter:
“There are plans to require supplementary religious schools in England offering 8+ hours of study a week – for example Jewish yeshivas, Muslim madrassahs, and ‘mosque schools’ – to register and be inspected. This was announced at the Conservative party conference in the context of “combating extremism.” Further details have yet to be announced. Local authorities have said that sometimes children are removed from school supposedly to be home educated but in fact going on to attend unregistered and unregulated part-time faith schools. Conceivably these may be affected by the new proposals.”
On October 19th I posted this update
On November 10th I posted
“Ofsted calls for urgent crackdown unregistered schools + exploitation home education rules” and linked to https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/475553/Advice_letter_from_Sir_Michael_Wilshaw_Her_Majesty_s_Chief_Inspector_on_unregistered_schools.pdf
On November 27th I wrote this blog post about DfE’s call for evidence on out-of-school settings” clarifying that “settings” do not include elective home education, and adding that there had been no mention of madrassas or mosque schools in the DFE document but that this had been the focus in media reports.
“Any setting meeting the threshold would be required to register with their local authority and would be eligible for investigation, and if appropriate, intervention where concerns were reported. Intensive education could be considered anything which entails an individual child attending a setting for more than between 6 to 8 hours a week …”
On December 8th I did a roundup for my next email newsletter of various developments which I thought could have an impact on home educators:
1/ Registration Out of School Settings
In the last newsletter I mentioned the Government’s plan to register supplementary religious schools in England. The Department for Education has now issued a “call for evidence” on out-of-school settings, defined as a child being taught for more than 6 hours a week. Unlike the earlier announcement, religious instruction is not singled out, although many commentators have assumed the proposals are primarily aimed at mosque schools/madrasas.
“Out-of-school settings” do not include elective home education but home educators may be caught up because of tutor groups or study centres, as well as privately funded flexischool arrangements. I would urge everyone who thinks they may be affected – eg you run a group or your child attends a group or you work for a local authority which will be keeping a register of settings and reporting concerns to Ofsted – to have a look at what the Government is suggesting and to answer the call for evidence. It would be very helpful to explain to DfE why in some scenarios registration would be disproportionate.
The current proposal is for “light touch” registration where the setting simply provides the local authority with basic details on the proprietors, location, what is called the “education offer”, plus numbers of children. There is no mention at this stage of the local authority enquiring about operating hours or the names and addresses of children at the setting, but once the framework is in place, obviously more could be added later. DfE also says Ofsted isn’t going to inspect ALL settings but will step in when it hears of safeguarding concerns. We can only speculate at this stage what Ofsted might expect local authorities to do as part of identifying and safeguarding vulnerable children and children missing education.
(In a related area, Ofsted has also made a strong demand for all independent schools teaching pupils for 20 hours or more a week to be registered or closed down.)
2/ Destinations Data, CME, Pupil Registration Regulations
In light of the Children Missing Education duties mentioned in the proposals for registering out-of-school settings above, it seemed that the current hands-off approach with very basic registration data might go in quite a different direction if anything changed in the Children Missing Education Guidance.
I made enquiries and the Department for Education has now confirmed to me that changes ARE planned to the CME Guidance. This is the background: earlier in the year Ofsted told DfE that schools should collect more information about the whereabouts of children whose names are deleted from the schools admissions register, and that local authorities should do more to investigate where the information is unclear or incomplete.
Ofsted reasoned that “we cannot be sure that some of the children whose destinations are unknown are not being exposed to harm, exploitation or the influence of extremist ideologies. We do not know whether these children are ending up in unregistered provision.”
There are two strands involved in making the changes recommended by Ofsted: one is the Pupil Registration Regulations dealing with deregistration, and the other is Children Missing Education Guidance covering local authorities eg checking whereabouts of children moving from their area. None of these changes seem to be aimed directly at home educators but any new rules for children coming out of school could have a knock-on effect for home education, which is why I am flagging them up now.”
EDITED DECEMBER 28TH TO ADD LINK TO OUT OF SCHOOL SETTINGS FAQ (NEW) http://edyourself.org/articles/outofschoolsettings.php
On December 10th I posted an item on my news page about Children Missing Education Guidance and changes to the Pupil Registration Regulations and I also amended the individual pages
Changes to Children Missing Education and Pupil Registration Regulations
DfE has agreed to take action after Ofsted insisted there must be more tracking of children who are taken out of school or who don’t return to school. This will involve changes to the Children Missing Education Guidance and the Pupil Registration Regulations. Previous changes to local authority duties around CME and how deregistration from school is handled have had an impact on home educators.
I also flagged this up on Twitter and Facebook.
On December 11th I made a web page laying out the different measures being proposed for illegal unregistered schools and “out of school settings.” I also noted that regulation of part-time educational institutions had never been brought into force.
This is what I said about the difficulty in identifying and taking action on illegal schools:
“If the law is clear about what independent schools are required to do, then how is it possible for such schools to flout the law? Is it simply that nobody knows where the schools are or that the Government is unwilling to take action against schools which are breaking the law? In reality, the situation is more complex.
The first obstacle concerns the definition of an “independent school”. Part-time schools don’t have a legal status, so the school is either full-time or not a school. However, “full-time education” is not defined for independent schools. What has happened is that the Department for Education has decided to regard 18 hours – or possibly 20 hours as the threshold for “full-time” which will determine whether a school is a school in the eyes of the law. This is why Sir Michael refers to “20 hours”.
The second obstacle is that hours relate to the education being provided for a particular child, rather than the number of hours that the school is open. Hypothetically if a school takes half its pupils in the morning (eg 9-12) and the remaining half in the afternoon (eg 1-4), then the school is open “full-time” but no child is receiving more than 15 hours education and therefore something which to all intents and purposes looks like a school will not be legally classified as a school.
The third difficulty is that nobody from the council is allowed to inspect school registers or question the proprietor on the school premises to check individual pupils’ timetables. The only body which has the power to do this is Ofsted.”
I also said:
“For Ofsted the position it is quite clear: the law says independent schools must be registered, must meet certain standards, and must be inspected. Ofsted has said repeatedly that schools which aren’t registered should be closed down, and the proprietor should expect to be prosecuted.
Ofsted is patently frustrated that the Department for Education is still allowing unregistered schools stay open as long as there is a chance they might register in future, even though the proprietor is breaking the law.
This is the basis of Ofsted’s current disagreement with the Government, and Ofsted’s latest letter is essentially saying either the Government must enforce the law or it must grant Ofsted the powers to bring prosecutions.”
On Facebook I said “New web page: unregistered schools, wouldn’t it be better if we applied the laws we already have?” and also “I think reporters are getting very muddled about unregistered schools. This is my new web page”
On December 13th I updated the unregistered schools page to say that DfE was going to give Ofsted (unspecified) new powers. I updated the page again on December 17th with a link to the Secretary of State’s letter to Ofsted granting new powers to bring prosecutions
On December 19th I spoke to a journalist from the Independent on Sunday who told me that the Government was going to investigate home education because of fears of radicalisation and children’s minds being poisoned. He didn’t have much information about what the Government was actually considering apart from wanting a better idea of home education numbers and wanting somewhere for people to be able to report concerns.
The article was published here and was followed up in various other newspapers and media outlets.
The issue of possible compulsory registration was raised by me, in response to the IoS journalist saying the Government believed there could be 20,000 or 50,000 and it had to have a better idea of numbers. I said home educators would think that sounded as though the Government wanted to get all the children on a list.
On December 21st the BBC ran stories on Radio 4 and 5 Live about the increase in home education numbers throughout the UK, said to be 65% over the past 6 years which amounts to 8.7% average increase year on year. On the whole the media reporting was positive about the benefits of home education and downplayed any notion that the Government had any intention to restrict freedom of choice.
I have more information on home education numbers in England here