'It is illegal and we will take action' - minister's message to schools on off-rolling

The government will take action against any school or multi-academy trust found to be illegally off-rolling pupils, the children’s minister has pledged.

Speaking to Schools Week at the Conservative Party conference, Nadhim Zahawi said he was “very clear” that “any form of informal exclusion, whatever term they want to give it, that sort of off-rolling is illegal, it is unethical and it is unacceptable”.

His comments come as Edward Timpson, Zahawi’s predecessor, prepares to report back on his review of exclusions and alternative provision.

The review was prompted in part by rising rates of permanent and fixed-term exclusions, but also concerns about illegal off-rolling, a practice whereby schools get pupils off their rolls without formally excluding them.

Zahawi said he hoped schools would “do the right thing” and “determine never to exclude”.

“One, when it’s illegal we will take action, but also, Ed Timpson’s review I hope will come back with some suggestions of how we incentivise schools, rather than spending their energy and time into that sort of bad behaviour, they should putting their energy and time to determine never to exclude.

“I’ve seen really good practice where schools have come together, collaborated and actually said ‘we’re not going to exclude’, and they’ve achieved it, so it is doable. This isn’t something that is beyond the ability of schools, and I urge every school: do the right thing.”

In a final message to schools, he insisted the government would pursue all institutions that break the law.

“Hear me, here and now. It is illegal. When the government says it is illegal, it means it is illegal and therefore we take action.”