The scandal of 'off-rolling'

By John Freeman

| 14 December 2017

"Off-rolling is wrong", says Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman in her Annual Report. That's great, of course, and about time. But - spoiler alert - the solution is in her own hands.

First, though, it must be said that there has been plenty of evidence of off-rolling for many years. Back in 2004, when I was an education director, I took action against a "successful" headteacher for off-rolling and associated practices - she was disciplined by the national panel but, I regret to say, was not banned.

The 2013 RSA report ‘Between the Cracks' dealt primarily with in-year admissions but the evidence of off-rolling is clear.

It's also worth saying that:

  • ‘lawful' exclusions are part of the problem, as the process is easy to subvert;
  • parents are being bullied into removing their children with the threat of exclusion being used to pressure them; and
  • off-rolling is being used with pupils who are just low achievers or are just a bit difficult as well as pupils with SEND.

It is so much easier to manage a school with fewer challenging pupils and that has a double ‘benefit' - the school climbs up the performance tables because the tail of the ability distribution has been sent elsewhere, and with less energy being spent on these pupils, the compliant majority are easier to teach.

I must also say that while the problem is widespread, it is by no means universal, and very many headteachers and governing bodies act in a totally principled way. But those that act immorally and unprofessionally are distorting the entire system.

Amanda Spielman, though, could do much more than wring her hands in her Annual Report - she could end this scandal within months, very easily indeed.

All she needs to do is for every school inspection to require the school to produce a list of pupils who have left the school in the last two years with a reason why. This should be checked against the School Register, and a summary included in the Inspection Report. If there is any evidence of ‘off-rolling' that should result in an immediate ‘special measures' judgment. Job done!

All we would need to do then is to apply the same disciplines to the admissions system, which is equally subject to immoral and improper practices, and for the same reasons. In fact, it is even easier to corrupt the admissions process not admitting a potentially-troublesome child in the first place is much less trouble than finding a way to get rid of them later on.

Only when we have sorted out exclusions and admissions will we have a much fairer education system in which schools explicitly serve their communities.

John Freeman is a children's services consultant and former DCS

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