Invisible to education

I want to use this blog to shine a spotlight on children who are not visible to the education sector and by that, I mean those that aren’t attending mainstream or special schools. It’s a complicated picture and we must first better understand what we mean by children who are not visible to the education sector in order to champion the needs of these children. Imagine a cutlery drawer at home: the whole drawer identifies the cohort, but within each section, we have different groups with their own unique needs.

So, the drawer includes a section on children who are excluded (either legally or illegally) from school, and children educated in other non-mainstream settings e.g. at home, as well as children not being educated at all. It includes children who are accessing illegal schools (although their parents may say they are being electively home educated), and those who move from one school to another and are referred to as “missing from education”, some of whom may be in care.

I am particularly concerned about these invisible children in the sense that they can’t be found or seen in official statistics, so I am grateful to ADCS, the Children’s Commissioner and Ofsted for raising these important issues through recent reports which tell us that nationally:

  • Around 38,000 children and young people are exclusively or primarily enrolled in alternative provision – this is a hugely diverse sector with many high-quality providers but not all are monitored or regulated
  • The number of permanent exclusions has increased by 44% since 2012/13 – locally we are seeing a reduction in exclusions, bucking the national trend due to the strategic approach of the ‘Lincolnshire Ladder of Behavioural Intervention’ – designed to support schools in achieving zero exclusions and the full inclusion of our most vulnerable students
  • Approximately 50,000 children across England could be home educated. We know that many parents choosing to educate at home do so because of philosophical reasons but there is growing evidence that parents can be put under pressure or feel that they have no option but to home educate. This cannot be right
  • Ofsted has identified nearly 300 establishments which could be operating illegally as unregistered schools often in poor quality accommodation with no outside space.

We all agree that missing out on a good education is bad for a child’s development and ultimately for their life chances. The social and financial cost of allowing children to get to the point of exclusion are huge. Being excluded from mainstream school means children are more likely to be vulnerable and that for many this is the first step along a journey that ends with adult social exclusion. So, it is essential that we are clear about identifying those who are falling through the gaps in the education system both to prevent this where possible and to champion their right to a suitable education where it is not.

Some potential solutions we have discussed within the Association’s Educational Achievement Policy Committee include:

  • Reinstatement of co-ordination of mid-year admissions by local authorities, this should be funded as a new burden
  • Local authorities should be able to direct academy schools to accept pupils, especially children in care, to avoid unnecessary delays in accessing education
  • The guidance on exclusions should be reviewed with a more robust presumption to inclusion: the independent review panel must have the power to direct a governing board to reinstate an excluded pupil and local authorities might be given the power to fine all schools and academies if local requirements, laid down by the Schools Forum, are not met
  • Exclusions and/or managed moves should not be considered unless adequate, properly resourced alternative provision is already in place
  • Local authorities should commission alternative provision places where the local area’s schools budget is used to fund. The current funding arrangement for alternative provision free schools does not align commissioning responsibility, funding decisions and accountability. This needs to be reviewed. Where schools commission their own alternative provision, there should be a nationally agreed quality assurance framework which schools use when placing pupils. There is clearly a role for Ofsted to inspect compliance
  • It is noted that the inspection regime could promote and reward schools which are highly inclusive. I believe that Ofsted should expect all schools to have an inclusive approach which helps pupils to develop resilience through restorative approaches.

ADCS believes the government also needs to clarify its position on elective home education: local authorities cannot see or speak to children who are home schooled, yet we have duties to make arrangements to enable them to identify, as far as is possible, children in their area who are not receiving a suitable education; and to intervene if it appears that a child is not receiving a suitable education. In the vast majority of cases there are no concerns and there is no evidence that home-educated children are more likely to be in need of safeguarding than any other child. However, there is evidence to suggest that families who wish to avoid public agencies due to abuse or neglect, for example, or send their child to an illegal school, may use elective home education as a legal mechanism to avoid scrutiny. We want the government to work with us and home schooling families so we can understand how we can balance the need for private family life to be protected, whilst collectively ensuring that children who are at risk are safeguarded. This is no easy task, but it must be done.


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