THE trend for schools in the borough becoming academies and distancing themselves from the local authority has led to a rise in children ‘missing out’ on their education, claims a Hillingdon Council review.
Of the 18 secondary schools only three remain under council control, as schools take advantage of national reforms to the education system and opt to oversee their own affairs.
The converted schools now instead report directly to the Department for Education.
But the shift in the balance of power means the local authority has less of a handle on how schools are run, with data on attendance, GCSE results and even exclusions no longer channelled through its officials.
According to the council’s recent report – Access to Education for Hillingdon’s Vulnerable Children and Young People – it has also led to an increase in schools encouraging parents to withdraw their children so they do not have a permanent exclusion on their record – a practice known as ‘off-rolling’.
Councillor David Simmonds, deputy leader of the council and cabinet member for education and children’s services, said this was ‘an area to monitor’, but insisted there was ‘a robust system in place to spot students who may fall out of education and return them to school’.
By law, the council has to find pupils up to 16 years old who have left a school an alternative place within 20 days.
But under the current circumstances long absences can go unnoticed, sometimes until the situation has been flagged up, says the report.
To address this, the borough has pledged to ‘reconnect with schools’, to ensure that no children are left behind especially in the context of rising pupil numbers and growing pressure on school admissions each year.
The borough’s education and children’s services policy overview committee, who compiled the report, has recommended that links with schools are re-established through a new education partnership, and the council look into providing more places such as the Brookfield Adult Learning Centre, in Park Road, Uxbridge, which teaches children while they are waiting for a school place but is not appropriate in the long term. Youth centres are one option being considered.
The report could lead to the introduction of ‘parent champions’, who would advise parents on the admissions process.
Mr Simmonds said: “We undertook this research to identify where we can improve things for Hillingdon’s vulnerable.”
In a statement, the Department for Education said: “There is no evidence to suggest that academies are less inclusive than maintained schools.
“We will take seriously any evidence to suggest that a school is acting unlawfully.”