Ofsted has been downgrading schools that “off-roll” students. But what does it actually mean? Cath Murray explains…

The whole area of alternative provision (AP), off-rolling, exclusions and managed moves can be confusing.

In a recent inspection, Ofsted said the school’s pupils educated in AP were “well cared for” and achieved good results. But the inspectors still downgraded it for off-rolling.

So when are schools allowed to send their pupils to alternative provision?

AP placements

When a child is not engaging with the school curriculum, despite the school’s best efforts, the school, parent(s) and child may agree they would be better off receiving some of their education in a different setting. This could be part-time vocational education; it could be a short-term placement that allows the child to catch up with their literacy and numeracy.

The aim should be either to allow the child to achieve qualifications they couldn’t otherwise get or to help them reintegrate into mainstream. If you’re a school commissioning a placement in AP, your rule of thumb should be this: Is this child making more progress (academic, social, emotional, vocational) than they would in mainstream?

If not, why are you paying them? Paying a provider simply to take a child off your hands is not a good investment — nor is it in the best interests of the child. Choose your APs wisely, and hold them to account.

What’s really important here is that the child must remain dual rolled. So you’ll be coding them M in the school census and the AP will use code S.

Managed moves from mainstream to AP

These tend to happen for two reasons: The child has been attending an AP for a while on dual roll. The mainstream school doesn’t want the child’s GCSE results to count in their performance measures, and they remove the child from roll (usually in year 11).

This is off-rolling, pure and simple — and Ofsted will sanction you. In short, what is the benefit to the child of moving them to the roll of the AP? If they stay on your roll, you have an added incentive to make sure they are getting the best education they can in AP.

Second, the local authority or school is trying to reduce their permanent exclusion (PX) numbers, so they persuade the parents to agree to a managed move, “to avoid an exclusion”.

The main advantage to the child is that it can feel less confrontational and more collaborative, which is why parents will often agree.

But it creates three problems. First, it removes scrutiny. School leaders don’t have to prove to the governors that the child has met the threshold for PX, nor that appropriate assessments and interventions have been tried.

Second, when a child moves on to the roll of an AP in this way, there is no official process for reviewing whether they are getting appropriate education, and whether they might be ready to return to mainstream.

Third, if full-time AP is right for that child, there’s a strong argument that the mainstream school should still oversee quality. APs aren’t big enough to offer as broad and balanced a curriculum, and they aren’t held to account for academic outcomes. And while there are some excellent APs, there’s also a murky world of unregulated independent providers.

What should schools do?

Schools are under multiple funding and accountability pressures and I’m not arguing that this is easy. But here’s what I would advise:

  • Don’t off-roll. Never (not even in year 11) remove a child from your roll so they can go full-time on the roll of an AP.
  • Have oversight. Build relationships with the APs that you use and make sure your pupils are getting a good education there.
  • Innovate. If there’s no good AP in your area, consider other solutions (lots of schools are developing their own in-house, on-site AP).

Finally, we need to look at how to adjust the existing accountability and funding system to make it easier for schools to do the right thing.