A school criticised by Ofsted for off-rolling its year 11 pupils did so with the agreement of its local authority, with other schools in the area potentially employing a similar practice.

Discovery Academy in Stoke-on-Trent has been rated as ‘good’, despite having been rapped by inspectors for moving year 11 pupils onto the roll of local alternative provision last January and for planning to do so again this year.

I think our schools do an absolutely cracking job under difficult circumstances, and Ofsted should realise that, go back to government and say ‘these people need help’

Inspectors found the school off-rolled pupils “using procedures agreed with local schools and the local authority” and with the “full knowledge of those partners”.

The school’s sponsor has confirmed the decision to off-roll pupils was made with the “agreement” of Stoke City Council, but said it has since ceased to use the practice and warned other schools, which were part of the same agreement, against it. Other schools in the area have also been informed of the decision.

Ofsted has faced criticism for sending out mixed messages over ‘off-rolling’, with the two other schools criticised for the practice rated as “inadequate”. However the watchdog has yet to explain why Discovery was rated “good”.

The inspectorate has said schools found to be off-rolling are “likely to be judged to be inadequate” under its new inspection framework, which comes into affect this September.

Now the councillor in charge of education in the city has defended the school’s policy, and criticised Ofsted for failing to see the “bigger picture”.


School move ‘was not in pupils’ best interests’

Inspectors found that ten year 11 pupils who were on the school’s roll but attending “good-quality” local alternative provision were transferred to the alternative provider’s roll in January 2018.

It meant Discovery’s league tables position in 2018 did not take into account all the pupils who were on roll for “all or most of years 10 and 11”.

Furthermore, inspectors found leaders “had planned to off-roll a smaller number of pupils in January 2019, but, because the school ceased this practice during the inspection, no pupils left the roll at this time”.

Inspectors concluded that the movement “provided no benefit for the pupils and was carried out in the best interests of the school rather than the pupils”.

“This constitutes ‘off-rolling’ according to Ofsted’s definition,” the report said, adding that school leaders and Stoke council officers “could not provide inspectors with any convincing reason for this practice”.

Ofsted said governors and trustees had “failed to hold leaders to account for the off-rolling of pupils”, and ordered Alpha to “ensure that the practice of ‘off-rolling’ that has now ceased is not returned to”.


We’ve changed our policy, insists trust

Alpha Academies Trust, which runs the school, said Discovery, like all secondary schools in Stoke, had signed up to an agreement with the council “to support children to move into alternative provision when mainstream education does not meet their needs”.

The city had agreed that a “small number” of pupils should move to the roll of other school “as they had spent the majority of their secondary education in another provision”, the spokesperson said. The pupils “all made good progress”, they added.

“Ofsted has recently reviewed the practice of changing school roll nationally and deemed the practice in Stoke-on-Trent as ‘off rolling’ under their definition.

“The trust has accepted Ofsted’s view of this practice and stopped any transfer of school roll with immediate effect.  The trust has also advised the local authority and other schools in the city of Ofsted’s view.”

The trust also pointed out that Ofsted’s report stated that vulnerable pupils make “good progress” at the school, and that  staff “provide high-quality care and support for these pupils and a strong culture of care and support exists throughout the school”.


Ofsted ‘woefully out of touch’, says councillor

Janine Bridges, Stoke’s cabinet member for education and economy, defended the practice of moving pupils from a school’s roll, which she said would only happen if such a move is “in line with their education and health care plan”.

“Our aim is that children stay on roll in mainstream,” she told Schools Week. “If they need specialist support, that’s what we do, if we can do it on a hub and spoke basis that’s what we do and that’s what the schools were signed up to.”

They have their criteria, they tick the boxes and they don’t see the bigger picture

Asked if she thought moving pupils to the roll of other schools was justified in some circumstances, Bridges said: “If it is appropriate, yes, but it’s very child-focused, and it’s the needs of the child not the needs of the school that are at the centre of everything.”

Bridges also criticised Ofsted, claiming the watchdog is “woefully, woefully out of touch with reality” and was ignoring the “bigger picture” in Stoke, an area which takes a high number of migrant families without extra resources.

“We have 1,000 in-year movements of children into and around the city from the dispersal area programme,” she said.

“It creates an enormous amount of pressure. We are up to our cap. We are the major authority in the country for dispersal of migrant families and with those doesn’t come additional resources. We have to absorb that. In some schools they’re speaking 40 different languages, can you imagine the pressure on the staff?

“To be honest, I think our schools do an absolutely cracking job under difficult circumstances, and Ofsted should realise that, go back to government and say ‘these people need help’.”


We’ll be tougher from September, says Ofsted

An Ofsted spokesperson said the inspectorate was “committed to reporting cases of off-rolling whenever we find evidence of it happening in schools”.

“The effectiveness of leadership and management at Discovery Academy was judged to require improvement, because inspectors found that off-rolling had taken place last year. We are pleased that the school has since stopped this practice.

“Under our new inspection plans, if inspectors determine that a school is off-rolling according to Ofsted’s definition, then the leadership and management of the school are likely to be judged inadequate.”