Labour: We'll make schools 'accountable' for off-rolled pupils

The Labour Party will tackle the “national scandal” of off-rolling, an illegal practice that “lets down thousands of young people”, the shadow education secretary has said.

Ahead of the party’s annual conference, Angela Rayner told Schools Week the fact that schools are “incentivised” to remove underperforming pupils before they sit their GCSEs is “a disgrace”.

Labour announced earlier this week that if it gains power, the attainment and outcomes of pupils permanently excluded or otherwise pushed out will continue to count towards their previous school’s league table performance – until they find another permanent school place.

The fact that, at present, schools are incentivised to remove underperforming pupils before they sit their GCSEs is a disgrace

It follows a clampdown by Ofsted on off-rolling, whereby schools illegally remove troublesome or low-attaining pupils before they sit their exams.

The watchdog found that 300 schools had “above expectation” levels of pupil movement between years 10 and 11 for the past two years, and 560 had movement that was “significantly above expectation” in 2017 alone.

Rayner said her party would end the “unfair system that lets down thousands of young people”.

“The fact that, at present, schools are incentivised to remove underperforming pupils before they sit their GCSEs is a disgrace,” she told Schools Week. “Thousands of pupils disappearing from our education system in the year before their GCSEs is a national scandal.

“For too long, the Tories have sat by idly as some of the most vulnerable young people in our country are falling between the gaps and even out of education altogether.”

The policy announced earlier this week is similar to a proposal announced by the Conservatives in 2016 but then abandoned.

Former education secretary Nicky Morgan’s ‘Education Excellence Everywhere’ white paper proposed that mainstream schools would “retain accountability” for the outcomes of pupils transferred to exclusion units, and would “take a lead role in commissioning their provision” even when those pupils are permanently excluded.

Nicky Morgan announced a similar policy in 2016

The proposal was widely welcomed in the sector but never saw the light of day after the ‘Education For All’ bill, which set out the white paper’s plans in legislation, was shelved by Morgan’s successor Justine Greening.

Rayner also wants to close a loophole that currently allows schools to receive funding for pupils months before they sit their exams.

It follows research by Ofsted, which showed that around 50 per cent of pupils who left school before taking their GCSEs last year did not end up in another state school.

At present, schools are allocated funding based on pupil numbers recorded in the autumn census but numbers recorded later, in the spring census, are used for accountability purposes.

Labour has signalled it will change this system, but has not explained exactly how its alternative would work.

The use of off-rolling by schools and the quality of alternative provision for excluded pupils has in recent years become a big headache for the government.

Ofsted has ordered inspectors to crack down on the use of off-rolling and the government has commissioned a former education minister, Edward Timpson, to conduct a review of the situation.

The parliamentary education committee has also raised significant concerns about the fate of pupils pushed out of their schools earlier this year.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Informal or unofficial exclusions are unlawful and we wrote to schools last year to remind them of the rules on exclusions. Any school ‘off rolling’ on the basis of academic results is quite simply breaking the law.”