Two more secondary schools have been accused of off-rolling by Ofsted, as the inspectorate insists it has the ability to root out the controversial practice.
Falmouth School in Cornwall has been rated ‘inadequate’ after inspectors found it sometimes removed pupils against the advice of other agencies. The Sutton Academy, in Merseyside, was rated ‘requires improvement’ after Ofsted found it off-rolled under a process agreed by the local council and other school leaders.
Five schools have now been accused of off-rolling in inspection reports since Ofsted promised to crack down on schools with unexplained high levels of pupil movement at the end of last year.
In its December annual report, Ofsted said it had identified 300 schools with exceptionally high levels of pupil movement that could be off-rolling. It has refused to publicly name these schools, but has begun alerting councils and academy trusts to schools it has concerns about.
The Sutton Academy, sponsored by St Helens College, was inspected in May. Inspectors found “significant numbers” of pupils had been removed from its roll in the past three years and warned “this was not in pupils’ best interests”.
The report said 12 pupils who had been attending alternative provision were removed from the roll in January and transferred to the AP’s roll, meaning they would not be represented in published information about Sutton Academy.
Inspectors said the “process is well established at the school and has taken place for many years,” adding that more Year 11 pupils had been off-rolled last year, and a large number of those affected were disadvantaged pupils or those with special needs.
Off-rolling ‘agreed with local authority’
The report added: “The process of off-rolling pupils has been agreed with the local authority and with other school leaders within the local authority. Leaders and a representative from the local authority could not provide inspectors with any convincing reason for this practice.”
It said leaders agreed there was “no sound justification for off-rolling” and “indicated” the practice would stop “immediately”.
However, Alison Sherman, Sutton Academy’s principal, told the St Helens Star that Ofsted’s definition of off-rolling is an area of “huge disappointment and controversy” and described the inspection as a “political decision and one that is being used to change local practice”.
She also said the school’s policy, which was mirrored in other schools in the area, was for alternative provision education to begin as early as year 8 but the pupil would not be taken off the school’s roll until year 11.
St Helens council has said the moves were done in “good faith, transparently and regulated by common agreement” between schools and alternative education providers with “strict criteria”, but it has since told school to keep such pupils on their roll.
During the inspection of Falmouth School, part of the Falmouth MAT, also in May, inspectors found, in some cases pupils were removed “against the wishes of the family, the advice of the local authority and the professional judgement of other agencies.”
Sue Godzicz, interim chair of governors at Falmouth School, said the school was “disappointed” with the judgement but accepts “that lessons have to be learnt and that work needs to be done”.
Ofsted: We can adequately inspect off-rolling
Schools Week has previously revealed concerns that Ofsted can’t properly investigate off-rolling by solely speaking to school leaders.
Writing for Schools Week, Dan Owen, specialist adviser for school inspection policy at Ofsted, said inspectors “carefully weigh up all of the evidence” before deciding whether a school is off-rolling.
Although he said school leaders often have “rational, logical and convincing explanations” for pupils leaving and can show their decisions were “reasonable”, he said that if explanations “don’t add up” then inspectors are likely to say a school has off-rolled pupils.
“In the last year, we have identified five schools where off-rolling was taking place. Our inspections of these schools have reflected on the differing impact this practice has on the lives of the children and young people affected.
We have carefully evaluated the level of care and attention schools have given these young people
“We have carefully evaluated the level of care and attention schools have given these young people before and after they left the school roll, and inspectors have considered this in their judgements.”
Schools Week revealed in March that Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, directly intervened to ensure that Discovery Academy in Stoke-on-Trent’s leadership and management rating was downgraded after inspectors discovered evidence of off-rolling. However, the school still obtained an overall rating of ‘good’.
Like in St Helens, it turned out the practice was agreed with the council and used by other school in the region – but it has since been ended.