Ofsted demands tougher checks on children removed from school

14 Jul 15

Chief education inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has raised concerns that schools and local authorities are not doing enough to track where pupils who leave school at unusual times of the year are going and called for more robust record keeping.

In a letter to education secretary Nicky Morgan, Wilshaw said his inspectors had become aware of “potentially high” numbers of pupils being removed from school admission registers without schools having an accurate record about where they had gone.

An unannounced check on school records found that, in the main, schools and councils were complying with their statutory duties. However, Ofsted highlighted some problems, including inconsistent practices for recording and reporting cases where children are absent from school and poor communication between schools and local authorities.

“More worryingly, [we] noted that the current regulations place no legal duty on schools to establish and record the onward destination of pupils who are deleted from an admissions register nor, in the majority of cases, do they require local authorities to check the whereabouts of these children,” Wilshaw said.

“As a result, [we] found that schools often did not record a destination for pupils. In many cases, schools only noted very generic reasons for a pupil being removed from the register. Examples of this included ‘gone to live with grandparents’, ‘moved to Manchester’, ‘gone back to Libya’ or, in a number of cases, simply ‘moved abroad’.”

This made it virtually impossible to track where children had gone and distinguish those who were safe and had simply moved school or were being home-schooled from the minority who may be at risk, the Ofsted chief warned.

“It is equally hard to see how local authorities can be certain they are fully meeting their legal duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of all children in their area and to ensure that those children are receiving suitable education,” Wilshaw wrote.

“We cannot be sure that some of the children whose destinations are unknown are not being exposed to harm, exploitation or the influence of extremist ideologies.”

He recommended that head teachers be required to collect and record more detail about pupils’ onwards destinations and share this information with the local authority, particularly when accurate information on a child’s whereabouts cannot be obtained.

Wilshaw’s warning came in an advice letter updating the education secretary on the progress that had been made in Birmingham and Tower Hamlets since last year’s Trojan Horse case.

Ofsted inspectors have been monitoring 21 Birmingham schools and 7 in Tower Hamlets after identifying leadership, governance and safeguarding failures.

Wilshaw reported that in Birmingham the situation is improving slowly, although 6 of the 21 schools remain in special measures, mainly because of problems recruiting and retaining teaching staff.

Progress is also being made in Tower Hamlet and there is evidence that schools are acting on Ofsted’s findings.

“More generally, while progress is being made in both local authorities, I remain concerned that the malign elements that conspired to destabilise several schools may seek to exploit any perceived weaknesses in leadership or governance,” the chief inspector concluded.

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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