Number of ‘off rolled’ students sparks concern

18 Apr 19

Research has revealed a “disturbing” number of students being removed from school registers without explanation, a think-tank has claimed – leading to accusations of schools ‘gaming the GCSE results system’.

More than 55,000 students have been informally removed from schools for “unknown reasons”, according to analysis by the Education Policy Institute, released today.

Of the pupil cohort that ended year 11 in 2017, one in 12 (8.1%) were ‘off-rolled’ before the end of the school year – meaning they were removed from school rolls without being formally excluded.

The EPI said this phenomenon left schools open to accusations that some schools and multi-academy trusts are “gaming the system by removing pupils from their rolls so that those pupils are not then counted in the school’s GCSE results”.

The research, which analysed a decade’s worth of Department for Education data, found that a small number of schools have a particularly high rate of pupil exits.

Just 6% of secondary schools in England (330 schools) account for almost a quarter (23%) of the total number of unexplained moves in the 2017 pupil cohort, the National Education Union back research found.

These schools with high exit rates have removed the equivalent of an entire classroom of children form a single year group between 2012 and 2017, the EPI said.

The report also said that those most likely to experience an unexplained exit included pupils in the social care system (one in three); pupils who have been previously expelled (one in three); those eligible for free school meals (one in seven); and those from black and ethnic backgrounds (one in eight).

David Laws, executive chairman of the EPI, said: “The size of unexplained pupil moves is disturbing and will raise concerns about whether some schools are ‘off rolling’ pupils.

“We need to look particularly closely at the 6% of schools which account for almost a quarter of unexplained moves.”

He said that the EPI would release follow-up research in the summer looking at which local areas and groups of schools were most responsible for off rolling.

Jo Hutchinson, report author and director of social mobility and vulnerable learners at EPI, said: “Our estimate is that one in 12 children are being pushed around the system, and that this has risen in recent years. We will undertake further research on these trends this year, highlighting prevalence among local areas and groups of schools.”

Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “Councils have serious concerns about the extent of off-rolling and other abuses in the system, which is why they need to be given new powers and funding so they can monitor and take action where necessary.

“It is not right for a school to resort to such tactics in order to improve league table positions.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “No headteacher goes into the job to remove a pupil from school – and no headteacher takes the decision to do so lightly. Schools will typically have gone through a number of sanctions before exclusion is considered, taking into account the welfare of other pupils in the classroom.

“It is against the law to remove pupils on the basis of academic results – any school that does it is breaking the law.”

Read Rachel Willcox's feature for PF on the need for transparency in the academy sector. 

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