The Education Policy Institute was right to publish pupil exits data for MATs and councils, argues its research chief Natalie Perera.
The publication of our report last week on ‘Unexplained pupil exits from schools’ has attracted some criticism because of our decision to publish the prevalence of such exits amongst individual MATs and LAs.
Publishing data relating to individual school groups is not a decision we take lightly, but it is an important feature of our research. Being able to spotlight issues which are affecting the educational attainment of young people is at the core of EPI’s mission and it is particularly important in cases like this one, when government data is woefully opaque.
Publishing data relating to individual school groups is not a decision we take lightly, but it is an important feature of our research
While any data analysis on this topic will inevitably have some limitations, we have undergone a detailed consultation exercise with MATs, local government representatives, government and other sector and parent representative bodies in order to inform and improve our methodology (I’m not aware that this is a common exercise amongst organisations like ours).
We made it clear back in April and over the course of the consultation period that we would be publishing MAT and LA results and I suspect that nudged many providers to engage with us constructively and collaboratively.
Had we just said we would continue to publish our findings at a national level only, I am sceptical that we would have secured the level of engagement that we did.
We must also remember that local authorities and MATs are publicly-funded bodies, accountable to central government and the electorate more widely.
If our analysis highlights concerning trends, it is right that these trends are in the public domain and enable the DfE, Ofsted and parents to ask questions.
In publishing the tables as we did, we included as much data as possible in order to help readers contextualise the findings and have more meaningful discussions.
If school leaders can justify these moves, then there is nothing to fear.
It is particularly important to highlight trends and ask questions when the issue, as we found, affects the most vulnerable pupils.
Around three-quarters of unexplained moves were experienced by a vulnerable pupil and so it is surely our duty to investigate why this is happening and where.
Another important finding from our MAT and LA analysis is that, despite rumours and anecdotes, unexplained exits are prevalent across all types of school groups and is a systemic problem across the school system.
It is not the behaviour of only a few outlier groups.
If school leaders are worried about being unfairly named, then they should support our efforts to encourage the government to improve both its data collection and regulation and how it rewards or incentivises schools to be more inclusive.