League table pressure influences off-rolling, say teachers

By Dan Parton

| 10 May 2019

Teachers believe the practice of schools "off-rolling" pupils is happening regularly and is being primarily used to manipulate their standing in performance league tables, a survey has found.

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said the inspectorate takes "a dim view" of off-rolling

The survey of more than 1,000 teaching professionals from primary and secondary schools, conducted by YouGov on behalf of Ofsted, found that 16 per cent said off-rolling - the practice of removing a pupil from the school roll without a formal, permanent exclusion or by encouraging a parent to remove their child voluntarily - happens "a lot", while 48 per cent said it happens "a fair amount".

The results also show that use of the off-rolling is on the rise; 40 per cent of respondents said they believed it is happening now more than it did five years ago, and a further 26 per cent said it happens a lot more.

The pupils most at risk of experiencing off-rolling are those with behavioural issues, with low academic attainment or with special educational needs and disabilities - although there is often an overlap between these groups.

However, according to teachers the reasons for off-rolling are clear; more than half of respondents said it is done to manipulate league tables. Off-rolling students is seen as a better alternative to exclusions as the school's exclusion record is taken into account by Ofsted. 

One respondent, a head teacher in a maintained primary school, said off-rolling happens "due to the external pressures the school is under, the emphasis on data… off-rolling is a better solution to exclusions… it can be done without having exclusion on the record, and without months of additional paperwork".

When questioned on what their personal belief was, 57 per cent of respondents said the main reason behind a pupil being off-rolled was persistent behavioural issues, such as being disruptive/aggressive, rather than achieving or maintaining a high league table position (41 per cent).

Off-rolling is perceived by teachers to happen most in secondary schools in deprived areas where it is more challenging to maintain performance.

There was a general consensus that higher-achieving schools are better able to "take the hit" of poor results from a few pupils, whereas schools with an overall lower performing cohort will feel the impact of negative results more severely.

Teachers agreed that it usually happens before pupils take their GCSEs, either during years 10 to 11, or in year 9 before exam teaching begins.

Once a child has been off-rolled, there is little follow-up from the school, the survey found. Only 17 per cent said they or the school followed up with the pupil or parent once they had left.

At a House of Commons public accounts committee hearing in January, Ofsted's chief inspector Amanda Spielman confirmed that only two schools had been formally identified during an inspection as off-rolling pupils, while the inspectorate had flagged 300 schools where this could be an issue.

Spielman said the findings of the latest survey are troubling.  

"While not every school is off-rolling, teachers tell us that some are clearly pushing vulnerable pupils out through the back door with little thought to their next steps and best interests," she said.

"Ofsted takes a dim view of off-rolling. When inspectors uncover evidence of this happening, we make it clear in our inspection reports. And under our new inspection regime, taking effect in September, schools found to be off-rolling are likely to be rated inadequate for their leadership and management."

Earlier this week, a report by former children's minister Edward Timpson into exclusions policy proposed a range of measures to tackle off-rolling. 

Ofsted's draft new education inspection framework proposes new powers for inspectors to identify schools trying game the system, but children's services leaders have warned these don't go far enough.

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