How does Ofsted end up asking local authorities about home education?

How does Ofsted end up asking local authorities about home education?

In November 2013 Ofsted started a new system of unannounced safeguarding inspections for every local authority in England. Here are the LAs not yet visited (list regularly updated)

One of the categories Ofsted looks at is “Children in Need of Help and/or Protection”. 

In advance of the inspection visit, Ofsted asks for the following information (taken from Annex A of the Inspection Handbook inspections of services: children in need of help and protection CLA and care leavers and LSCBs)

Children in Need of Help and/or Protection
2.05 number of children who are electively home educated known to the authority

As a subset of “missing children” Ofsted looks at “children missing education” and “children missing out on education” (for example children not being allocated a school place, or being on roll but not receiving full time education)

For “children missing education” Ofsted’s position seems to be that the LA should know which children of compulsory school age are out of school, the reason(s) why children are out of school, whether there is a valid reason for their being out of school, and where there is no valid reason, what arrangements the LA has in place to get them (back) into school.

Being praised or criticised for home education  isn’t one of the key areas which will make or break an Ofsted inspection.

Ofsted fails LAs  because of defects in:

  • management oversight
  • changes in social worker managers and leaders
  • performance management and data
  • drift and delay, mainly in children’s case work
  • recognising potential cases of child sexual exploitation, missing children and carrying out missing and return interviews

Around 1 in 5 local authorities are rated inadequate. In this blog post I explain what happens after an inadequate judgment.

When Ofsted arrives on site at the local authority the inspectors will talk to people working for the LA and to service users. At a stretch an Ofsted inspector might conceivably say “talk me through these home education numbers, what’s going on, how do they compare with other councils, how do you arrive at this number, do you keep a list of home educated children, how does that work, talk me through what happens when you add a child to the list or take a child off the list”.

For the avoidance of doubt, I’m not saying this is what Ofsted inspectors should ask, I’m saying it’s what they could ask and it’s what local authorities could reasonably anticipate might be asked, although equally the subject might never come up, since the focus is on children who are actually vulnerable and “in need of help and/or protection”.

In April 2015 Ofsted told its safeguarding inspectors what they should and shouldn’t be looking for in regard to home education (if indeed they look at all, which they absolutely don’t have to)

I have reproduced the inspectors’ guidance below (EHE = elective home education)

The single inspection framework requires local authorities (LAs), as part of the Annex A return, to provide the number of children who are electively home educated as known to the authority.

The data we receive about home-educated children, alongside a report in respect of children not in full-time education, are important elements of evidence for inspectors to evaluate how effectively local authorities monitor the progress and safety of children who may be vulnerable and/or need support.

However, home-educated children are not, by definition, all in need of protection and help.

It is crucial that inspectors take the following into account during single inspections:

Ofsted does not have a mandate to inspect the quality of EHE.
The statutory duty on LAs to identify as far as possible those children not receiving a suitable education does not extend to home-educated children; LAs do not have a duty to evaluate the quality of the education provided for home educated children – e.g. through routine visits – although they may intervene if it appears that the education is unsuitable.
Home visits may only take place with the consent of the parent, unless there is a safeguarding concern which would justify the use of safeguarding powers to carry out a home visit whatever the child’s mode of education
The guidance does, however, encourage LAs as a matter of good practice to build positive relationships with home educators; this is likely to increase access to educational support for children and parents when they need it and provide a sound basis for responding to any concerns that may arise
The departmental guidelines on EHE explain that LAs should pro(vide accessible, clear written information that sets out the legal position, roles and responsibilities of LAs and parents in relation to EHE. They can provide advice and support services, and may offer a registration facility but this must be voluntary.
Reports must, as far as possible, avoid any ambiguity which may lead to a misunderstanding of either the extent of local authority duties or Ofsted’s expectations in relation to home educated children.

To see what Ofsted says about home education in its inspection reports, click  here 

Local authorities are not “responsible” for home educated children in the same way as they are responsible for Looked After Children and children on roll at school who are being provided with less than a  full time education.

Ofsted continues to be very interested in the educational and safeguarding arrangements where pupils are being sent off-site for part of their education, or if they have been excluded from school.

Ofsted does ask for detailed information about pupils in alternative provision as part of its safeguarding inspection of local authorities.

2.06 a report on children, for whom the local authority is responsible, who are of school age and who are not in receipt of full-time school education at the time of inspection. This report should include for each child:
child unique ID or UPN, date of birth, number of hours provision per week (in particular whether they are receiving more or less than 25 hours per week)
type of exclusion (if the child has been excluded) date when alternative provision commenced.

On February 9th 2016 Ofsted published the findings from a three year survey of alternative provision which I have written about here   and on November 8th 2016 there was more publicity about provision for excluded pupils and about illegal schools.


25 thoughts on “How does Ofsted end up asking local authorities about home education?

  1. Hilary Searing

    I have to admit that I’m completely baffled by the inspection process in England. I know there are a number of authorities that have been deemed ‘inadequate’ for safeguarding work and inspectors are trying to improve social work decision-making in child protection in these authorities. So why don’t they tackle the key issue of social work practice around section 47 enquiries? Here in Wales the ‘All Wales Child Protection Procedures’ offers detailed guidance on the practice issues around section 47 for social workers. Unfortunately, in England the statutory guidance ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ states that the core assessment is the means by which a section 47 enquiry is carried out and does not focus clearly enough on the practical arrangements and legal issues that have to be considered.

    The re-inspection of inadequate services in England appears to be so challenging that inspectors now want ideas on how they could do this better


  2. Fiona Nicholson Post author

    Also sorry where you say “So why don’t they tackle the key issue of social work practice around section 47 enquiries? ” does “they” refer to local authorities or to inspectors?


  3. Hilary Searing

    I stopped working many years ago and have lost touch with front line social work – so can’t answer your first two questions. On the last one, ‘they’ actually referred to inspectors. However, local authorities – and others in the child protection system, including the NSPCC – have all played a part in covering up the need for proper scrutiny of social work practice under s47. This has probably contributed to the lack of clarity among professionals, when faced with safeguarding concerns, about the rights and responsibilities of parents.

    My concerns are that in England some leaders of the profession (and others in positions of power e.g. Judge Anthony Thornton in ) are opposed to section 47s in principle because they believe parents find the experience traumatic. This view seems to be based on a misunderstanding and an assumption that a s47 is invariably a criminal investigation. In fact, I consider that it can be single agency investigation by social workers and, if handled well, this can be a very different matter. I have written about this in Social Work Practice: Section 47 file:///C:/Users/Hilary/Documents/Barefoot/section47.htm and the links under Further Reading may be of interest to you.


    1. Hilary Searing

      Thanks, Fiona, for showing the correct link! Nothing has changed since I wrote the article. However, there’s a very interesting ESRC-funded project called ‘Rethinking child protection strategy’ which takes a fresh look at aspects of child protection and safeguarding processes and their effectiveness. It’s initial report shows that there is increased pressure on agencies to refer children, but little recognition of how this affects the families. The experience of referral and assessment is stressful for many families and may have long-term adverse consequences.

      Incidentally, the latest news from the NSPCC makes me despair. True to form it has just popped up with another half-baked initiative – a referral point for whistle-blowers which will simply add to pressures on children’s services. In their usual self seeking way they cosy up to prevailing prejudices about incompetent professionals and offer no insight into the realities of child protection. This is just another headline-grabbing idea to raise more funds for themselves.


  4. Fiona Nicholson Post author

    I’ve got confused! Are you saying that assessment of need for early intervention should be the default unless there are clear grounds for suspecting child abuse? OR that child abuse risk must be ruled in or out first?


    1. Hilary Searing

      Your question points to the contradiction within the social work role.

      I’m saying that when social workers make an initial visit to a family they should be clear about the reasons for ‘social work intervention’. Is the primary reason to assess need? or is it to assess risk? Essentially, the sec 47 visit involves uninvited surveillance of private behaviour – which is likely to provoke anger and fear in families. So how are parents going to view the social worker who then wants to get into a supportive relationship and offer ‘children in need’ services? Clearly, there are problems for social workers in establishing trust and genuine partnership in this situation.

      It should not be forgotten that the Children Act 1989 treats section 17 (children in need) and section 47 (investigation) as separate and distinct activities. Arrangements in some authorities integrate them into one process of ‘assessment of need’, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but inexperienced social workers may become insufficiently focused on their child protection duties. This is why I advocate arrangements which make clear the two distinct activities.


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