Parents ‘who can barely read' trying to home school their children, meeting hears

A senior officer at Leeds City Council has suggested some schools are pressuring parents with limited academic skills into home-schooling their children.

Wednesday, 23rd October 2019, 5:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 23rd October 2019, 5:43 pm

The comments came during a discussion on the practice of schools removing pupils from their rolls without formally excluding them, known as off-rolling.

Officers told a meeting of councillors that an increasing number of parents are taking their children out of school during their GCSE year, and have heard anecdotal evidence from parents that they have been advised by schools to educate their children at home.

A senior councillor also claimed the number of electively home educated [EHE] children had doubled since 2013, calling the increase “worrying”.

The meeting took place in Civic Hall, Leeds.

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The authority’s deputy director in charge of learning, Phil Mellen, told a meeting of the council’s education scrutiny committee: “The growth areas nationally, which appear to have been replicated in Leeds, are children with SEND.

“[There is] another growth number of potential off-roll students who are children who, in the final term of year 10 or the first term of year 11, are becoming electively home educated.

“I don’t know many parents who would actively make that choice. I have just taken my daughter through year 11. I am an educationalist, but there is no way I would have home educated her through her GCSEs.

“If you were taught to do it as a teacher, that would be difficult. To do it so late in the secondary calendar seems unusual, and we do have anecdotal evidence of conversations with the parents saying ‘your child is racking up fixed term exclusions, we are really concerned about their behaviour, they may end up permanently excluded, wouldn’t it be better if…’.

“Those children have then gone off the roll of the school and are deemed home educated.”

Data released by Leeds City Council shows 512 pupils receiving Elective Home Education (EHE) at the end of the 2016/17 academic year, while a total of 610 were listed at the end of the 2018/19 academic year.

It added that, despite many parents having sincere beliefs about home education, it was more likely that those who take older children out of school could be doing so for other reasons.

The issue of parents being pushed into home educating their children was described as an “urgent situation” by Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake at a meeting last month.

It followed a report earlier this year from the Children’s Commissioner that claimed more needed to be done about the practice of off-rolling.

Mr Mellen, who himself is a former school headteacher, added: “The children’s commissioners’ report, and subsequent Dispatches programme that went with it, showed in some cases [EHE] is inappropriate – you have parents who themselves struggled themselves academically, and can barely read, let alone access the full curriculum, trying to teach their 15 or 16-year-old about about Shakespeare and Jekyll and Hyde.”

Sir Edward Timpson’s report into exclusions nationally stated that pupils’ results should count towards a school’s overall figure, even after they have been removed from its roll.

The council’s head of children’s services, Steve Walker, added: “There was a suggestion in Timpson’s report that some parents are being placed under pressure to take that decision, when that decision is not in the best interests of the child.

“Where I am making a positive decision because I think it is in the best interests of my child to educate them at home, that is one thing. Where I am being persuaded, or influenced, into taking them off the roll of the school, that would be off-rolling and unethical because it is not in the best interests of the child.”

The authority’s executive member for education, Coun Jonathan Pryor (Lab), added: “In terms of permanent exclusions, Leeds has the joint lowest number of these in the country, but what that has meant is that some schools have moved to off-rolling.

“There are different ways that schools can potentially off-roll. A school could persuade a family that they should electively home educate, we have seen the number of electively home-educated children has doubled since 2013.

“That’s not to say that families who choose positively to home educate don’t do a good thing for their children, but the rate it has increased is quite worrying.”