Off-rolling is when a school 'push out' their more difficult or under-achieving pupils, with the intention of reducing work load for teachers, minimising disruption for other pupils and/or improving the school's overall results. It is completely and totally illegal.
This can be incredibly hard for both the child being off-rolled, and the parent who had never intended to become a home educator.
It can happen by a school bullying the parents to take their child out, black mailing the parents with possible expulsion for the child, or offering another option, such as college courses, which the parents do not realise are part-time course for home-educated children, and by taking them up, they have unknowingly become home educators.
If you think you might be in this position or could potentially be in this position, do talk to the LA. Schools are not allowed to off-roll. The LA can help assert your rights in the school system, help mediate between you and a school, or make sure alternative provisions are in place should all else fail.
Communication break-down between you and a school
‘Fighting’ a school can be one of the most stressful things you can ever do as a parent. It can feel like you are taking the weight of the world on your shoulders, and you don’t have a choice as you are fighting for your child’s academic, mental and occasionally physical well-being.
It may be that walking away from that school is one of the best things you could ever do, but any decisions made in the heat of the moment are not ‘safe’ decisions.
Keeping options open by delaying decisions until you have thought everything through and have found out all the information you need to make an informed decision is really important.
Talk to the LA if you want to know what ‘school’ options are available to you. It might be that the school is being unreasonable or has not explored all options that could alleviate the problems, it might be that you just need someone to act as a communication go-between, or it might be that things really can’t be resolved and you need to look into other schools. A good LA will be able to help you through these situations and support both you and your child in finding the best possible solution.
Equally, you may find that although HE wasn’t your first choice, it in fact turns out to be the best choice for you and your family - the rainbow after the storm, if you will.
Don’t accept anyone’s opinion as the only one, or (as much as you can) feel that you have to choose the options others would like you to. Even though at first it might seem very overwhelming, the situation does become clearer the more you look into it. Don’t be frightened to ask for help and look for advice on HE forums, parenting forums, with the LA, and if it really comes to it, seek legal advice. Then, when you are ready, and aware of all consequences, make your own decisions.
If your situation with the school has not broken down completely, and you would like to try HEing, asking if the school will give you an HE trial period, so they don't deregister you until you are really sure that HE is the option for you (our school gave us three months to ‘try it out’), or asking if they would consider flexi-schooling (younger years tend to me more amenable to this than older years), are two options that some schools will consider. Schools are not obliged to do either, but sometimes you find some schools are more flexible and accommodating than others. After all, you have nothing to lose in asking.
Illegal and Unregistered Schools
An illegal school is, by definition, unregistered. An unregistered school is not necessarily illegal.
A ‘school’ or learning establishment does not have to be registered if it has four or fewer pupils of compulsory school age, as long as none of the children have a statement of SEN, an EHC plan or are ‘looked after’, i.e. are currently the responsibility of the state, or if it operates for less than 18 hours a week.
If there are five or more children of compulsory school age, if any of the children are ‘looked after’, have a statement of SEN or an EHC plan and if it operates for 18 or more hours a week, then the learning establishment will need to be registered with the LA and, if it is not registered, it is then operating as an illegal school.
So what's this got to do with HE?
Well, learning institutions that are not registered but should be are illegal. Some HEors take on other children to child-mind (paid or just out of friendship) or start educational groups as a way of making ends meet. It can work fabulously for all involved, but some accidentally find themselves stepping into the category of an illegal school, just by taking on one too many children or teaching children for longer than the set number of hours. This means that lovely, kind, well-meaning HEors can find themselves in a bit of a legal pickle, all because they were just trying to help a friend out.
For the parents who accidentally send their children to an unregistered school, your child actually qualifies as being home educated. Most parents who send their children to unregistered schools are completely unaware that the school is either unregistered or illegal. If it looks like a conventional school and advertises itself as a conventional school, you assume that it has had all the usual checks that any school would. Sadly, that is not necessarily the case.
This could be a problem for you if it turns out that the 'school', and by extension you, have not provided your child with an adequate level of education, by the definition laid out in section 7 of the Education Act 1996 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/56/section/7), and in very extreme cases could mean that the LA can force you to send your child to a school of their choosing.
However, the more real concern for most parents who have unwittingly sent their child to one of these schools (and I am not talking about the kind child-minder, but rather the larger 'schools' that are being run very much as a big, profit-making enterprise) is that it means the child is in a setting that has not been checked to make sure it is meeting any of the basic health and safety standards you would expect for any organisation that is looking after children, such as, smoke detectors, fire alarms, hygienic food preparation areas, fully functioning sewage systems, safe play areas, DBS checked adults, registers etc. etc. And there will also be no guarantees that the education is of a suitable standard for the age and abilities of the pupils.
If you use a learning establishment to supplement your HEing, these can include some HE co-ops, forest schools, etc., double check that all staff are DBS checked and if you can see that it may fit the description of an establishment that needs to be registered with the LA, check that it is. Your child’s safety is paramount, and all good establishments understand this.
List of registered learning establishments in Cambridgeshire:
Finding Cambridgeshire county council registered childcare providers (including childminders that care for children from birth to 16):
If you are in any doubt about a setting that you think may be operating as an illegal school, contact: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ofsted
Ofsted General enquiries Email: firstname.lastname@example.org General enquiries: 0300 123 1231
Contact Ofsted about concerns Email: CIE@ofsted.gov.uk Contact Ofsted about concerns: 0300 123 4666
If you run or wish to run an HE group that would technically come under the description of ‘a school’ and you wish to be registered as an independent learning establishment: https://www.gov.uk/independent-school-registration