Both Ofsted and the Education Datalab have published analyses of ‘off-rolling’, the practice of encouraging pupils to move before the end of key stage 4 in order to improve the school’s headline measures.
Ofsted found that 19,000 pupils who were in year 10 in 2016 did not appear on the same school’s roll in year 11 the following year. While half had moved to another school, the remainder could not be traced to another state-funded educational establishment. There are possible legitimate reasons for this, such as joining an independent school, being home schooled or moving abroad, but the analysis found that some groups of children were disproportionately likely to be affected: those with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND), those eligible for free school meals, looked after children, and some minority ethnic groups. Ofsted have identified 300 secondary schools from which an ‘exceptional’ level of pupils have moved in each of the last two years. This will inform their lines of inquiry during inspections.
Amongst the cohort that finished key stage 4 in 2017, Education Datalab found an increase in the number of pupils who left mainstream schools between years 7 and 11. Again, it found that some pupil groups were more likely to go missing from school rolls than others and that outcomes for these pupils’ reinforced concerns that some schools may be off-rolling pupils.
The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee are currently holding an inquiry into Ofsted’s inspection of schools.Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman appeared before the committee on Monday 25 June and off-rolling was one of the topics discussed: “The more our inspectors are thinking clearly about the environment and the potential pressures that a school might be feeling, the better the conversation can be about how they are navigating this in the interests of children”.
The vast majority of schools will always prioritise the interests of pupils above the demands of performance measures and will not engage in ‘off-rolling’. There is, however, a clear role for the governing board in ensuring this never happens by asking questions about changes in the make-up of cohorts and setting an ethos and culture with ethical leadership at its core.