A school in north London “unlawfully” booted out sixth-formers halfway through their A-levels because they didn’t achieve high enough grades.
Three parents have told Schools Week their children were left devastated by the “horrifying” and “appalling” decision of Queens Park Community School in Brent not to allow the pupils to progress to year 13.
One received an official letter confirming the decision the day before students were due to start the new term last week.
Ofsted rated the 1,300-pupil school “good” at its last inspection.
They kicked him out and I think that’s the most disappointing thing
The disclosure comes after a high-profile scandal at St Olave’s, a leading grammar in Bromley in 2017. An inquiry found the school had acted illegally by throwing out sixth-form students who failed to get top grades in AS and equivalent internal exams.
Government rules state it is unlawful to exclude students over academic attainment. A Department for Education spokesperson confirmed that any off-rolling on the basis of academic results “is quite simply breaking the law”, adding that the department will be speaking to the school directly.
In correspondence seen by Schools Week, senior leaders at Queens Park told the three families their children were “below the required minimum standard to progress into year 13”.
Erin Smart, an education solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, said: “There are very strict rules by which you can remove pupils from a school roll and exclusion is one of them, but exclusion can only be used for disciplinary matters. If pupils are enrolled on a sixth-form course then they can’t be removed halfway through for academic reasons. It’s just completely and utterly unlawful.”
She said this position was “confirmed” in the St Olave’s case with the government reiterating that excluding pupils either “temporarily or permanently for non-disciplinary reasons is unlawful in itself”.
Queens Park confirmed in a statement that when students “are clearly not meeting the minimum grades after a year of study we encourage them to find more suitable alternative courses on which they can succeed”. A spokesperson added: “A-levels are not for everyone.”
The spokesperson insisted that the students “have not been excluded”, adding: “They are all offered the opportunity to start a more suitable BTEC qualification as an alternative to A-levels.”
However, in correspondence seen by Schools Week, Jude Enright, Queens Park’s head, tells parents that the school is “unable to offer” their child a place this academic year, without mention of the option of a BTEC.
The three parents said they would have “jumped” at the opportunity of a BTEC had it been offered.
Currently, two of the three pupils have not been able to find a place elsewhere.
Dan Rosenberg, an education lawyer at Simpson Millar, said a BTEC offer could be made, but “not where the alternative is leaving the school”. Continuing with A-levels had to be an option.
“Offering BTECs without the option of continuing with A-levels is a way pushing children who are more likely to obtain lower grades out of the school.
“It is not lawful and leaves parents and children scrabbling around trying to find another place that’ll let them carry on with their A-levels at the very last minute, which is obviously very detrimental for them.”
Rosenberg said that schools “seeking to improve their league table performance in this way should be a thing of the past”, particularly given Ofsted’s crackdown on off-rolling in its new inspection framework. The DfE said it is continuing to work with Ofsted to define and tackle the practice of off-rolling.
They are all offered the opportunity to start a more suitable BTEC qualification
The school did not respond to further detailed questions about the lawyers’ comments.
The three pupils who have not been allowed to continue on to year 13 took a variety of AS and internal exams in the summer last year. They achieved a mixture of C, D, E and U grades.
All three parents admit that their children had not done well. Each received at least one U grade, but passed in other subjects.
But they were shocked to be told that they had fallen below the threshold needed to continue with sixth-form study.
One said that she felt her child “might as well have been excluded”, adding that official channels would be in place if they had been.
The school said that it informed parents in mid-August that their children had failed to get the grades needed to continue with A-level study.
Yet Schools Week has seen an official letter confirming the school’s decision that was sent out on September 4 – the day before pupils were back – and another sent on September 11, nearly a week after pupils returned to school.
The independent inquiry into St Olave’s last year found that it treated pupils as “collateral damage” in its bid to achieve high grades.
The Guardian reported in 2017 that about 16 pupils had been told their places for year 13 had been withdrawn after they failed in exams to get three Bs.
St Olave’s head and chair of governors resigned after the practice was reported, with the school later allowing the withdrawn pupils to return after parents threatened legal action.
Media coverage also led to a wave of schools abandoning similar policies. The DfE wrote to all schools informing them that enrolled sixth-formers could not be removed over academic ability.
Schools Week has previously revealed how a legal loophole allows 16 to 19 free schools and sixth-form colleges to push out low-attaining pupils at the end of year 12.
However, this exception does not apply to sixth forms attached to secondary schools, such as Queens Park Community School.
A Brent Council spokesperson said that parents who have concerns should use the Queens Park Community School Academy Trust’s complaints procedure.
‘They’ve just dismissed him’
The parents and their three children, who all wish to remain anonymous, say there has been a “disgraceful” lack of communication from the school and an absence of duty of care to their children.
One parent, whose child had been at the school for six years and who took part in lots of extracurricular activities, said: “When they needed him to step up and do things for the school, he always did it. On this one occasion when he’s had a bad year and we needed the school to support him, they didn’t.
“They kicked him out and I think that’s the most disappointing thing. He’s given everything to the school and he’s being treated as though he’s walked in with a set of kitchen knives. That’s how it feels – that they’ve just dismissed him and they don’t care about him.”
Another parent spoke about the toll the school’s decision has had on her and her family. “They’ve let us down and they haven’t given me time to get him ready for the next steps or to look for a different school. The poor boy doesn’t know what he wants to do now. He’s lost confidence. He’s just staying in his bed and doing nothing.”
Clarification: This article was amended to insert quote marks around the word ‘unlawfully’