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Skipping School: Invisible Children

How children disappear from England’s schools

The phrase ‘home education’ unhelpfully encompasses a wide range of parenting styles – from those who choose to educate their children themselves for social and philosophical reasons and do so perfectly well, to those who choose to keep children out of the school system to avoid the eyes of the authorities or to deny them a secular education; and then those who would love to have their kids in school but cannot find a school to fit their needs.

For this group of parents, educating their children at home is not a choice, but a forced response to difficulties fitting in at school. The child who is being bullied. The child struggling to cope with noisy corridors and classrooms; or sometimes with school uniform policies, homework and timetables. The child not receiving the specialist help she needs. These kids can reach crisis point and without additional care from schools or from external agencies such as CAMHS, the children fall through the gaps. It is sometimes schools themselves that put pressure on parents to remove children who don’t ‘fit in’. This practice, known as off-rolling, can amount to informal, illegal exclusion.

New research by my Office, published here, suggests that 1 in 10 schools account for half of the pupil movement, but that this is becoming more common, even in some local authority-managed schools. Some schools are believed to have pro forma letters ready for harassed parents to sign, agreeing that their child would be better off home educated, when they come to meet the head after yet another problem. It is unacceptable that some schools are washing their hands of children - particularly the most vulnerable - in this way.