A school that Ofsted commended for improving teaching and raising standards has been rated ‘inadequate’ after inspectors uncovered the “well established” off-rolling of pupils which was described as “local practice”.
It comes as Ofsted continues its fight against schools that move pupils off their roll. Last month, the watchdog revealed that the number of schools with exceptional levels of pupil movement are on the increase, rising by 13 per cent in one year.
Ormiston Denes Academy in Suffolk, part of the Ormiston Academies Trust, was inspected by Ofsted in June. The report, published today, warned leaders have “failed to pay due regard to the achievement, welfare and safety of a small but significant number of pupils”.
Inspectors noted some pupils who attended the Suffolk Pupil Referral Unit remained dual registered at both the school and the PRU in key stage three and in Year 10. However, the report said the decision to remove these pupils from the school’s roll at the start of Year 11 “was taken in the best interests of the school rather than of the pupils”.
“This constitutes ‘off-rolling’ according to Ofsted’s definition. This process is well-established at the school,” the report said, adding that the lead inspector had confirmed with the local authority that the school was “following local practice rather than statutory guidance”.
Suffolk county council has now confirmed it will be issuing “new guidance” to all secondary schools and pupil referral units following the Ofsted report.
At least six schools have now been rapped for off-rolling after inspections.
It’s also not the first time that Ofsted has condemned a school for off-rolling that appeared to be following local authority guidance.
In March, Stoke-on-Trent City Council announced it would no longer support schools that move pupils onto the roll of an alternative provider – despite it being a stated policy of the council and the city’s 13 secondary schools – after Discovery Academy was rapped by Ofsted for the practice.
At Ormiston Denes, a “significant minority” of pupils were said to not be in lessons or in school, while persistent absence amongst disadvantaged pupils or those with special needs has been “too high for too long”. Inspectors said the school’s “misuse of attendance reporting has disguised the issue”.
A number of pupils were on a reduced timetable to help manage their mental health or special needs. Fifteen of these were not in school at all – including one that had been at home for a year – but the pupils were incorrectly recorded as having approved absence to attend alternative educational provision, when they were in fact “left to work at home unsupervised”. The report said leaders argued this was necessary because there was “no appropriate provision in the area”.
Fixed-term exclusions remain above average, while inspectors warned a “significant number of pupils are not in school and their welfare is not checked regularly enough. Their safeguarding is at risk”.
Although leaders were commended for having “driven a rise in attainment” and creating a “positive culture of behaviour, enabling teachers to teach well and most pupils to make good progress”, inspectors said this had been achieved “without paying due regard to the needs of some of their most vulnerable pupils”.
An Ormiston spokesperson said: “We have taken exceptionally seriously the areas of concern, highlighted in the Ofsted report, and were extremely disappointed that they occurred. We have appointed a very experienced principal and are confident that there will be no repetition of these unacceptable practices.”
A spokesperson for Suffolk county council insisted that it “challenges off-rolling in any circumstances that leads to a child not having appropriate provision” and will “consider” informing Ofsted of schools where off-rolling “appears to be happening on a significant scale”.
“We also seek to ensure that children receive provision that is appropriate for their needs. For the majority of children this will be a mainstream school, but for some a specialist or alternative provision will be more appropriate. We will be reviewing local processes in light of the issue raised in this inspection.”
She added that the council will be updating its policies regarding Year 11 pupils in PRU’s and all secondary schools and PRU’s will receive new guidance “shortly”.