An academy trust is under fire for its new behaviour policy that states poorly-behaved pupils will be kept behind a year until they improve.
One lawyer said Outwood Grange Academies Trust’s plans have “no lawful basis” and are an “effective way of getting [pupils] to leave”.
The trust’s new behaviour policy states pupils who don’t show “over time, good behaviour, attitude and effort in their lessons, will not graduate at the end of year 8 and may subsequently remain in year 8 until improvements are made”.
OGAT, which starts GCSEs in year 9, said it was “in fitting with the schools legal ability to manage and organise their curriculum as they wish”. The trust said that pupils would, in the worst-case scenario, spend less than six weeks held back in year 8.
Keeping children down a year (or threatening to do so) is a very effective way of getting them to leave
But Dan Rosenberg, partner of the public law team at Simpson Millar, said: “There is no lawful basis for schools preventing pupils progressing to the next year with their peers.
“The only reason that we have seen schools put similar policies in place is because, rather than face the humiliation of being stopped from progressing, many children want to leave and/ or are withdrawn by their parents.
“Keeping children down a year (or threatening to do so) is a very effective way of getting them to leave. Given Ofsted’s current focus on off-rolling (and leaving aside the issues relating to its legality) it is surprising that the school has chosen to implement this policy at this point in time.”
OGAT has redesigned its behaviour policy for September, as revealed by Schools Week yesterday, amid a legal threat over its use of isolation booths from Simpson Millar.
Martyn Oliver, chief executive of OGAT (pictured) , said graduation ceremonies are a “wonderful celebration” to “praise those students who have demonstrated effort and have shown a readiness to start year 9”.
“On the very rare occasion that a small number of children do not graduate at the end of year 8, the students will receive intensive support and a relevant curriculum to ensure they continue to progress their learning.
“This is in fitting with the schools legal ability to manage and organise their curriculum as they wish, whilst ensuring that all children access an appropriate curriculum, taking account their age and any specific needs.”
Any pupils kept behind in year 8 will also study the year 9 curriculum, the trust said.
They added just 16 of the trust’s 4,000 pupils were held back in year 8 last year, with just one of the 16 pupils potentially having left the school as a result.
A spokesperson said this had also featured in its previous behaviour policies.
Oliver added: “As a trust we do not off-roll. It is an abhorrent practice and one which we simply do not do. One of the first things I did when I became Chief Executive was to ensure that any evidence of off-rolling would result in immediate disciplinary action. OGAT are subject to Ofsted scrutiny and have been inspected over ten times this academic year. In all cases it was confirmed that our academies did not ‘off roll’ students.”
Students will receive intensive support and a relevant curriculum to ensure they continue to progress their learning
The Education Endowment Foundation states on its website that repeating a year is “very rare” in the UK, but is relatively common in other countries including the USA.
The EEF states the intervention has a “negative impact for very high cost”, adding: “Evidence suggests that, in the majority of cases, repeating a year is harmful to a student’s chances of academic success”.
“Pupils who repeat a year make an average of four months’ less academic progress over the course of a year than pupils who move on. In addition, studies suggest that students who repeat a year are unlikely to catch up with peers of a similar level who move on, even after completing an additional year’s schooling.
“Studies also suggest that students who repeat a year are more likely to drop out of school prior to completion.”
Costs to secondary school fall between £4,000 to £9,000, and between £3,000 to £8,000 for primaries, the EEF said.
However a YouGov poll in 2012 found 67 per cent of Britons agree with the idea for underachieving pupils.