Tuesday, 15 December 2009


The above word, which will probably not to be found in any dictionary, refers to the practice of ridding one's school of undesirable elements. If you find that your school has a lot of truancy, kids that are on the verge of being permanently excluded or likely to do really badly in their GCSEs, then this reflects poorly upon the school. What can be done?

Well one cunning and widespread wheeze is to persuade their parents to take them out of school altogether. They then cease to be your responsibility and become instead the local authority's problem. The best way of achieving this end is to get them to agree to deregister their children in order to home educate them. When some representatives from various local authorities gave evidence to the DCSF select committee, it was found that every single one of them knew about this trick. They all had cases of families who had been referred to them as home educators, but who really had never had any intention of educating their own children. They had been put up to it by the school which their children attended. So common is this practice, that it merited its own recommendation in the Badman report, No. 15.

I have mentioned before Firfield School in Newcastle, which during the late nineties managed to improve their statistics fantastically by typing out letters for the parents of persistent truants and those about to be excluded. These letters stated that the parents wanted to deregister their children in order to teach them at home. They were handed to parents and warned that either they signed or that they would be prosecuted for truancy. Either that or their kid would be chucked out of the school, thus blighting his future prospects. If anything, this sort of scheme seems to be even more popular now than it was ten years ago. Presumably this is because there are now so many home educated children in the country that the schools figure that a few more won't notice.

The latest variation on this theme is to target another group of children apart from the truants and hard cases who are about to be thrown out. These are fourteen and fifteen year olds who look unlikely to get a single GCSE. If their parents can be talked into withdrawing them before they take their examinations, then it boosts the overall pass rate for the school. Traditionally there have been two big surges in the age at which children are withdrawn to be home educated. These are just after starting primary school and just after beginning secondary school. Now there is another peak, a year or two before sitting GCSE's.

The fact that every local authority officer working with children who are electively home educated seems to be coming across children who have been edged out of school like this, suggests that the practice has become rather common. It would be interesting to know what percentage they make up of home educated children in the average local authority area.


  1. By wondering what percentage they make up of home educated children in the average LA area, you're making the same mistake as the government. They make up 0%, because they're not home educated.

    What they are is a very small percentage of the huge group of children failed by state education.

    I know you probably meant what percentage do they make up of the LA's reported numbers of home educated children, but I'm in a quibbling mood.

  2. Well of course this is a matter of semantics. Some would say that those who are not being taught are also not being educated, but I suspect that there are people who would disagree with that. The fact is that a certain number of those who have been deregistered from school are not being educated. The local authorities say that the figure is 8%, but I suppose it all hinges on your definition of the word "education".

  3. Well that's just dandy; a bunch of powerful people make a complete hash of things for their own ends, then bleat about how this situation is awful and they need the government to help them by making a third party group suffer.

    For the party of the first party, substitute local authorities or bankers, for the party of the third part, its home educators or the wider public. The common thread, the party of the second part, is the government.

    In the words of Ed Howdershelt, "There are four boxes to be used in defence of liberty: soap, ballot, jury, and ammo. Please use in that order."
    Given the reliability of our legal system, perhaps we're rapidly approaching the day for opening the fourth box of liberty.

  4. According the government, the LAs say something more like 1.8%, at least by my calculation. 210 out of more than 11,600.


    What's the source of your 8%?

    Aside from the numbers, my definition of the word education is irrelevant. The parent's definition is the only relevant one, since they're the ones responsible for providing it, both morally and (currently at least) legally.

    Therefore, while personally I might have a stricter definition than many, I accept that parents taking the decision and responsibility to educate their children are in fact doing so, regardless of their methods, because it's their business, not mine, or the state's.

    That's a totally different scenario to them being tricked/cajoled/threatened into saying that's what their doing in order to massage some bureaucratic league tables or rid a school of a responsibility they've already failed to deliver on, which is what offrolling is. I object to it even being talked about in the same context, never mind it being lumped into the statistics to justify interference in parent's provision of education for their children as they see fit.

  5. Oops, I wrote "their", I meant "they're". Educated by the state, not my fault.

  6. And of course it's always possible that cases of offrolling can evolve into good home education provision: a change that's of benefit to the whole family. Not all parents of school-refusers and life's natural rebels are negligent no-hopers, you know.

    It's even possible to conceive that herding and attempting to train children as per the school system isn't actually conducive to good learning and happy, healthy family life for many families and that offrolling could therefore end up being a major resolving factor for many of the problems they had which might have resulted from the presence in their lives of such an intrusive, divisive and unnatural institution.

    The offrolled child would thus become the happily home educated child, who could eventually be called the electively home educated child as time passes and a school place is neither needed nor sought.

    But that would be a pesky muddling of all of those nice, tidy, sweetly labeled pigeonholes and a hypothetical anecdote that wasn't one of Simon's own to boot, so as a theory it wouldn't count for much here, I imagine.

  7. CiaranG, my source for the 8% of supposedly home educated children receiving no education is the imapct assessment prepared by the DCSF with reference to the new Children, Schools and Families Bill. It says;

    "A survey of local authorities found that, in the opinion of officers monitoring home education, 20% of children were receiving an inadequate education and within that figure, 8% are receiving no education at all. This means that if there are 20,000 home educated children, 4000 children are getting an inadequate education and 1600 of these children are receiving no education at all."
    Of course, this figure comes from local authorities and may be a little suspect.

  8. You don't think that woolly "within that figure" is referring to 8% OF THE 20%? i.e. approximately 1.8%, as is evidenced by the actual figures extracted from the government via the written answer to Lord Lucas' question?

    Easy mistake to make, because the writer of that very paragraph in the impact assessment also did it, conveniently coming up with the inflated figure of 1600 children receiving no education at all when it obviously should be a small fraction of that. Of course, this then massively inflates the supposed financial benefits of the legislation (which are ridiculous regardless of the figures used) but still, it would be terribly cyncical to call it anything other than an honest mistake. Even though such 'mistakes' seem to characterise everything associated with the Badman's review and, strangely always seem to result in errors in only one direction.

  9. On a different note, thanks to Anonymous (the most recent one) for providing a completely different perspective on offrolling.

    When you stop cynically attributing to the school motives of wanting to improve figures or dispose of a problem, the whole thing looks rather different. i.e. "Education in the school environment is clearly not appropriate for your child, perhaps you should consider another approach that might be far more suitable for them" - that seems a reasonable thing for a school to say. Almost too reasonable for me to believe but still, it leaves me wondering why Recommendation 15 sets out to ensure that a school should be completely prevented from ever making such a suggestion.

  10. More than a little suspect, Simon. The impact assessment says that *within the 20% of HE children* deemed by LA's to be receiving inadequate education, 8% are receiving none at all. Several mistakes here:

    * They should have made it clear that these figures refer only to *known* HE, as evidenced by their assumption of 20,000 HE children. The percentage of total HE is anybody's guess.

    * LA's have proved themselves to have little understanding of HE, therefore their figure of 20% of whatever is unreliable.

    *Assuming that they mean 20% of known HE, that's 4000 children. 8% of that ("within that figure") is not 1600, but 320.

  11. It's an ingenious argument, but not what the local authorities actually said. I agree that the wording is horribly clumsy, but to be fair, they were bending over backwards not to give anybody the opportunity of exaggerating the numbers of children not receiving an adequate education! In fact, it was claimed that 8o% of those known to the local authorities were receiving an adequate education. 20% of the total were not. 8% of the total known were thought to be receiving no education at all. That is what is meant by the 8% being within the 20%. They phrased it like this to prevent some fool adding 20 to 8 and claiming that 28% of home educated children were receiving either an inadequate education or none at all. Unfortunately, they did not budget for somebody coming along and calculating 8% of 20%........

  12. I am surprised that some people do not realise that offrolling is a common practice and one invariably undertaken for the benefit of the school rather than the pupil. Anonymous seems to think that this is based upon hypothetical anecdotes of mine, but this only suggests to me that Anonymous has no dealings with either schools, home education or the real world. The scandal of Firfield School was covered by the Channel 4 News in 2000. There is a link to a piece in the Guardian about this in one of my posts in August, headed, "Do we need new laws". When a group of local authority officers involved with home education gave evidence to the select committee, they said that they were all familiar with the prectice and that it was related to poor attendance, bevious or educational attainment. (Page 63 of Annex 2 of the second report of the session 2009-2010) Of course it may be that some parents are advised this for the good of their children, but I have never heard of this happening. Has anybody else?

  13. "It's an ingenious argument, but not what the local authorities actually said."

    How do you know? And how come the government agrees with me, not you?

    And with reference to off-rolling, " Of course it may be that some parents are advised this for the good of their children, but I have never heard of this happening. Has anyone else?"

    I have, actually. And what a shame it doesn't happen more often.

  14. Continuing: It may well be related to poor attendance, behaviour (as I assume you meant) or academic performance, but why does that mean that it's inevitably bad advice, and self-serving? I know children who have been de-registered on the advice of the school because they are school phobic, or because they have special needs which cause them to behave in a disruptive way or fail academically, or because their poor attendence, academic performance or behaviour is a symptom of unhappiness caused by bullying. What's wrong with that? Sounds as if the LA version is largely spin, or at least based on their commonly held anti-HE prejudice.

  15. So, regarding the figures. I say 1.8%. I didn't get that by calculating 8% of 20%, as you suggest. I got it from the government's figures, which they got from the LAs:


    Although it does say 8% in the impact assessment document, it provides no source for that figure. Can you?

  16. 8% of 20% would have been 1.6% anyway.

  17. The source for the figure comes from the supplementary evidence which Graham Badman received in Septmeber from a number of local authorities. It comes from adding together the percentage of those parents whom local authorities believe from visits and other evidence to be providing no education, to those who refuse to co-operate at all in furnishing evidence and who partly in consequence of this, the local authorities also concluded are not providing an education at all. It is in fact a shade under 8%, but it is convenient to round it up to an exact percentage.

  18. Remember as well that the figures were received in September, at the beginning of the academic year. Some local authorities (can't remember how many; you'd have to check the google stats) included in the number of children *not known* to be receiving a suitable education (which I think is what you are referring to, and which is very different from the number of children *known not* to be receiving a suitable education), the families who they had not yet had time to check up on because they had only just started home educating. Some LA's also classified families who refused to accept visits or submit work as "refusing to co-operate" even though there is no legal requirement for them to do either of those things, and no reason for the LA's to conclude that they are not providing a suitable education.

  19. The 6% or so of cases where there was a refusal to provide any evidence can, realistically, be assumed to be cases where no education is taking place. Even the most obstinate autonomous educator will at least send in an eduational philosophy when the local authority asks for something. All local authorities have cases where they know damned well that the kids have been withdrawn from school to avoid problems and the families are often awkward customers who refuse all contact. I have no doubt at all that this is the category we are talking about here.

  20. I'm sure you don't. Nevertheless, it is clear from the google stats that a number of local authorities wrongly categorise children as not receiving suitable education for the reasons I listed above. And where did this new figure of 6% come from?

  21. "All local authorities have cases where they know damned well that the kids have been withdrawn from school to avoid problems and the families are often awkward customers who refuse all contact. I have no doubt at all that this is the category we are talking about here."

    Strange assumption to make (you know what they say about assumptions). I know several people who refuse contact with LAs but are providing an education, some autonomous and some semi-structured. Some people are just anti-establishment. The most you can say is that their education provision is unknown.

  22. The 6% is not a new figure at all, Erica. It is actually 5.85%. I rounded it up. It is to be found in the supplementary statistics which Badman got from the local authorities in September. The figure of 8% which was mentioned in the impact assessment was arrived at by combining this with the percentage of those judged, after visits, to be providing no education at all.

  23. Ah. The supplementary statistics. See my post above. I've already explained why this figure is unreliable. Have you looked at the google stats? There is no doubt at all about their accuracy; they are straight from the horses' mouths.