The claim is currently being made that the change in the pupil registration regulations, the so-called twenty day rule, is needed because of the problem of forced deregistration or off-rolling. This is odd, because when local authority officers met the Children, Schools and Families select committee on November 4th 2009, they did not say anything at all about this as being the reason that they wanted the twenty day rule. Instead, they specifically stated that it was to allow a 'cooling off' period for parents and for the school to have a chance to address the problems which the parents were facing. Still, let us take the suggestion that it is forced deregistration which is at the heart of this new initiative and see where it leads us.
There is not the least doubt that some parents are encouraged by their children's school to deregister their child, supposedly in order to home educate. At that same meeting with the local authority officers in November 2009, all those present claimed that they were aware of this problem. The Ofsted report last summer, Local Authorities and Home Education, also made mention of this, saying:
In two cases, parents reported to inspectors that the head teachers had
advised the parents to educate their child at home rather than have them
permanently excluded. It was not possible, within the scope of the
survey, to find out the school’s perspective on what had happened in
Another interesting point was raised in this report. Although some of the fifteen local authorities at which the Ofsted report looked, recorded the schools version of the reasons for deregistration, not one asked parents why they had taken the step of deregistering their children. This suggests that local authorities have no idea of the scale of the supposed problem of off-rolling. How can they, if they do not collect this sort of information in the first place?
So how common actually is the situation where a school puts pressure on a parent to take their kid out of the school and educate him at home? Nobody knows. Is is very common or freakishly rare? Nobody knows. Does this happen in most local authority areas or only in one or two? Nobody knows. That it does happen is undeniable. I have certainly seen it take place in the London boroughs of Enfield, Hackney, Waltham Forest and Tower Hamlets. I only have personal experience of one or two cases in each area, but it is definitely going on. Whether the practice is becoming more prevalent or not, I don't know and neither does anybody else. All we can say is that it happens. So how does forced deregistration work and why are schools doing it?
The thing to remember is that this is a scam operated by schools, rather than the local authorities themselves. Often the LAs are not aware that schools are up to this game. The motive for schools doing this is very easy to understand. If a lot of kids from your school are truanting or being excluded; this reflects badly on your school. People start asking awkward questions, such as why your school's figures are worse for this than other local schools. Big black mark! What you need to do is bring down the number of children truanting, being excluded or being shifted to Pupil Referral Units. Where does home education enter the picture? You call in the parents of persistent truants and say to them, 'Well Mrs Smith, this is it! We have reached the end of the line and now we will have to prosecute you. You will go to prison and your other kids will all be taken into care.' Naturally, the mother is terrified to hear this. That is the stick. Time now for the carrot. 'Of course, there is a way out of this. If you were to assume responsibility for your child's education yourself, then the question of truancy does not arise. Look, I've typed out a letter for you to sign, which says that you are deregistering your son from this school and will teach him at home yourself.' Mother eagerly reaches for her pen....
Disruptive and disaffected teenagers also targeted by this scam. The parents are called into the school and told that Tommy is about to be permanently excluded. This will be a terrible black mark against him, it will seriously jeopardise his chances of getting a job in the future, going into further education, finding another school etc. To save him from this stigma, all the parents need to do is deregister him and educate him at home.
The purpose of these tricks is for the head to reduce the number of children truanting and being excluded at his school. The result is that on some inner city estates, there are a number of teenagers hanging round all day causing mischief because they are 'home educated'. This is not a brilliant advertisement for home education!
It has been suggested elsewhere that children with special educational needs are particularly liable to be the victims of this trick. The only one category where I have seen this happen is those with Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties. EBD kids are seen as a nuisance in some schools and many teachers wish to be rid of them. I have known cases of such children being off-rolled.
As is so often the case with home education, we have no hard data upon which to base our decisions; parents say one thing and local authorities another. I shall be interested to see how this ends.