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Monday, 05 November 2018 06:38

Elective Home Education & Children Missing from Education 2017-18: Kent and Medway

Channel Four Documentary about Home Education on February 4th at 10.15 p.m., called: Skipping School: Britain's Invisible Kids.

I was involved in its production and appear in the programme, being interviewed by the Children's Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, OBE, with an article setting out my views on this, and a follow up here

The number of children leaving Kent schools for Elective Home Education (EHE) in 2017-18   has increased sharply by 20% to 1113 over the past year, but is still less than the peak year of 2013-14. Medway has seen an even larger increase by 62% to 278, and much greater than 2013-14.

The three schools in Kent to lose most children to ‘home schooling’ come as no surprise,  each featuring at the top of this list year on year. These are: High Weald Academy, losing 6.4% of its statutory aged population (11-16); Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey, 3.9%; and Hartsdown Academy 3.4%, all losing on average more than one child from every class last year. I look at these schools in more detail below. One common factor is that, for different reasons, most families have no other local alternatives to these schools. Some children who have left may have moved to other schools, been transferred to Pupil Referral Units or are Children Missing from Education (CME) without trace.  Highest for EHE in Medway was Strood Academy with 3.1%.

The figure of 310 Kent children who went missing with no known destination has been swollen by families returning to their homeland, notably in Gravesham and Thanet, home to large numbers of Eastern European families.

I also look below at off-rolling, a practice whereby schools encourage pupils to leave in the final years before GCSE and A Levels, in order to boost their examination outcomes. The data that suggests where such practices operate is headed by two schools that also regularly feature in these pages: Ebbsfleet Academy (GCSE, 17% loss) and Holcombe Grammar in Medway (A Level, with an astonishing 30% of students departing halfway through the A Level course).  

Many families positively and responsibly choose to home educate and there are plenty of resources to advise them, with some local groups identified  here, happy to support those looking to Home Educate. KCC publishes a helpful webpage with guidance and local policy. 

However, too many others make this decision  for more negative reasons explored in some detail in my 2017 article here.  

It should be of great concern that government does not appear to collect or publish data on a growing phenomenon even though it expresses concern and is engaged in considering legislation that would scratch at the surface. The BBC has filled the gap for the time being by  identifying a 40% increase in EHE nationally in the past three years. This article estimates the proportion of home schooled children nationally as around 0.5%, with Kent at 0.84% higher than this. 

It is perhaps surprising that of the 950 CME children, 619  or nearly two thirds of the total,vanished from primary schools. Around a hundred of these were from Thanet primary schools with one losing 30 children unaccounted for. However, this may fit the picture of families currently leaving the country. 

Elective Home Education % Children Missing from Education
Kent and Medway 2018      
All Kent Secondary
High Weald Academy 18 6.4%   6.4%
Oasis Academy
Isle of Sheppey
47 3.9% 30 6.4%
Hartsdown Academy 24 3.4% 28 7.13%
New Line Learning Academy 18 3.2% 3.2%
The Lenham School 14 3.2% 3.2%
Strood Academy 29 3.2%    
Spires Academy 15 3.1% 3.1%
Whitstable School 20 2.9% 2.9%
Dover Christ Church 14 2.2% 9 3.5%
Thamesview School 17 2.2% 9 3.3%
 Ebbsfleet Academy 11 2.1% 10 3.9%

 Note: Where there is no number for CME, this is because the figure is less than five (the lowest figure for which KCC supplies data). I do not yet have the CME figures for Medway (including Strood Academy) 

High Weald Academy
The school features regularly in these pages, with low take up of places and dependent on Local Authority allocations of children from Tunbridge Wells, low retention ( losing 16% of its pupil numbers since Year 7 for its Year 11 cohort last year), high turnover of headteachers and leaders, poor GCSE performance and high numbers choosing Home Education.
 6.4% of its pupils took EHE, by some way the highest number proportion in Kent. Further, it has by some way the highest proportion of vacancies in the current Year 7 of all Kent schools at 73%, so nearly three quarters of these places are empty. It is run by the poorly performing Brook Learning Trust which also controls the unpopular Hayesbrook School (49% vacancies in Year 7, second highest proportion) and Ebbsfleet Academy (38%).
By every criterion this is a school that is failing and is non-viable, and yet Government has seen fit to grant it a multi-million pound new build, given the high proportion of children being withdrawn to home educate there being no other nearby alternative school. 
Oasis Academy, Isle of Sheppey
47 children, or 3.9% of the statutory roll have left the school to take up Home Education. Parents on Internet Forums spend considerable time discussing how to take up Home Education, partly because there are no schools with vacancies in nearby Sittingbourne. 30 children simply vanished from the system last year, with no obvious cause other than a breakdown in relationships with the school, the largest figure in Kent. 24 of those going to Home Education were from Years 10 and 11, an indicator of off-rolling with parental comments underlining this. 
Issues include the Tough Love and inconsistent disciplinary policies applied through the abusive ‘Reflection’ system. A turnover of Principals who failed to improve the school, second worst GCSE performance in Kent for 2018, over a third of its places in Year Seven unfilled; 70 Local Authority allocations in March; second highest number of fixed term exclusions in Kent at 786. The school suffers from being too large to manage without capable leadership (second biggest in Kent) based across two sites and has now come up with a proposition to use one for concentrating on academic and the other on vocational studies in an attempt to improve matters.
Hartsdown Academy
I have reported on Hartsdown a number of times recently, a school that is beset with challenges outside its control, although arguably it has not managed them well, being one of my three Tough Love Academies. It is the least popular school in Thanet a District which had no vacancies in any secondary school after large numbers of children were placed in Hartsdown and Royal Harbour Academy through Local Authority Allocation as there was no one else to go on allocation of places in March. However, by September there were 38% vacancies in Year Seven.
The school has a large number of Eastern European children, some of whom have now returned home; children of families who are refugees and asylum seekers; unaccompanied refugee children; and Children in Care from London Boroughs. Not surprisingly, 28 children went missing without trace in 2017-18, along with the 24 to EHE, at 7.13% overall the highest figure in Kent.  GCSE outcomes in both Progress and Attainment were unsurprisingly the lowest in Kent for the third year running.
It is surely no co-incidence that two problem schools taken over by 'robust' academy chains  and now renamed as The Lenham School and The Whitstable School appear in the list as the Academy Trusts seek to improve standards. 
Off Rolling
There is considerable national concern about schools that encourage lower performing or troubled children in years 10 and 11 to leave in Years 10 and 11 before GCSE to improve GCSE results, by encouraging Home Education or other solutions. Although I have no details of where or why the children left, the 2018 census data shows the worst performer here is Ebbsfleet Academy, the third school in the Brook Learning Trust (along with High Weald and Hayesbrook) with 17% of its current Year 11 leaving the school between Year 9 and October of Year 11. It has regularly featured in previous articles covering losses in this way, confirming that Tough Love doesn’t work. Second and equally unsurprising comes Hartsdown with 15% of the cohort leaving, the same proportion as  Hundred of Hoo Academy in Medway, which also has a history of losing significant numbers at this stage; fourth and surprisingly Hadlow Rural Community School with 10%. There are still four months to go in Year 11 before off-rolling ceases to have an effect on GCSE performance, according to the rules, so one can expect these figures to rise further, although there is no evidence this is an issue in the large majority of Kent schools. 
Off Rolling has also taken place in the Sixth Form between Years 12 and 13, an issue that I highlighted two years ago and which became a national scandal. It began with Invicta Grammar which saw 22 girls leave, although the headteacher falsely claimed they had all left voluntarily. Invicta has clearly mended its ways as a result of all the negative publicity and just two students left at the end of Year 12. There may well be issues with non-selective schools, but it is not possible to pinpoint these as many such schools have students following one year courses alongside those taking A Levels.
Sadly, some grammar schools appear to be assuming that the dust has settled on the argument and there are too many with high levels of departure at the end of Year 12. By far the worst is Holcombe Grammar in Medway that saw an astonishing 30% of its Year 12 cohort leave. I simply do not believe that all departed voluntarily, and expelling pupils for other than disciplinary reasons is illegal.  I use the term 'astonishing' but the fact remains that Holcombe has committed far too many unprofessional and in some cases unlawful actions in the past year, most recently here. Surely someone has the ability to hold this school to account for the sake of its pupils. Second highest was another Medway school, Chatham Girls Grammar, with 22% of girls leaving, followed by Queen Elizabeth’s (13%); and Norton Knatchbull (10%)



Last modified on Friday, 06 December 2019 20:20

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