Next children’s tsar probed on her trust's off-rolling

Dame Rachel de Souza, the DfE's pick to be the next children's commissioner, questioned over off-rolling at the Inspiration Trust
15th December 2020, 12:12pm
Catherine Lough

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Next children’s tsar probed on her trust's off-rolling

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/next-childrens-tsar-probed-her-trusts-rolling
Dame Rachel De Souza Has Been Questioned Over Off-rolling At Her Trust By Mps.

The government's preferred candidate to be the next children's commissioner faced tough questioning from MPs this morning over off-rolling at her academy trust and was accused of presiding over a "survival of the fittest".

Dame Rachel de Souza, the chief executive of the Inspiration Trust, was appearing at a Commons Education Select Committee meeting to approve her appointment to the children's role.

Committee chair Robert Halfon asked her about Ofsted's discovery of recent evidence of off-rolling at East Point Academy - an Inspiration Trust school in Lowestoft - last year.  

"What did you or the Inspiration Trust do after Ofsted found evidence of off-rolling at East Point and unlawful formal exclusion?" he asked. 


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Dame Rachel said: "So the East Point academy - Ofsted didn't find it, we found that particular situation and…so Inspiration Trust had brought in a number of schools, and often schools coming in are on a journey.

"I had been focusing at central heavily on improving teacher supply…sorting out a fantastic nationally recognised curriculum to get results."

But Mr Halfon quoted Ofsted's letter saying that "the inspection was carried out because of concerns raised with Ofsted about pupil movement and potential off-rolling".

Dame Rachel said East Point had been "advised wrongly" to put a small number of students in alternative provision and that these students had been re-admitted into the school.

But Mr Halfon said later: "There seems to be a pattern in your schools of off-rolling and exclusions." 

Dame Rachel said: "I challenge that - most of our children's schools even at that point were below the national average and now all of them are...there is no way off-rolling can happen in our schools now.

"There was that one small incident that we found but you know, I have been through those particular issues, we've also had loads of fantastic reports on inclusion.

"What I can bring to this role is someone who's experienced it and what we need to be doing is talking, the only people who can improve this are our school leaders.

"Regulators can regulate and check, we need to be inspiring school leaders to look at how trust leaders and others have turned around situations."

Asked by Mr Halfon whether exclusions were part of the trust's strategy in turning around failing schools, Dame Rachel said: "Absolutely not".

"In fact, the commitment and the current commitment of inspiration trust is that every child that starts with us at 3 is with us at 18," she said. 

"We had to do a lot of work over the past few years to make sure that that's possible but absolutely not. We're turning round schools for the community and they're schools that have been failed in the past, it's for those children and those families."

Mr Halfon also challenged Dame Rachel over an 83 per cent fall in the number of SEND pupils at Great Yarmouth Charter Academy the year after the trust took over.

The proportion of SEND children fell by 55 per cent across the trust's secondary schools between Jan 2015 and Jan 2018 when the average drop among all schools was 2 per cent, he said.

Dame Rachel quoted Ofsted's report that "children were well identified and well-supported and indeed now we have - our SEND register's at the national average".

Mr Halfon said that while Dame Rachel had achieved success, he feared she had presided over a "survival of the fittest". Others on the committee questioned how Dame Rachel would champion vulnerable excluded pupils in her new role given the Inspiration Trust's use of exclusions in the past. 

There was controversy last year over off-rolling at Inspiration Trust's East Point Academy after an Ofsted report questioned the school's practice.

The Ofsted report said leaders of the trust could not show why removing pupils from the school roll in Year 11 was in their best interests.

Inspectors went into East Point because chief inspector Amanda Spielman was "concerned about issues raised with Ofsted about pupil movement and potential off-rolling".

The report also raised concern about leaders' "flimsy" work to understand why some pupils were choosing to leave East Point Academy to be home educated after the figures rose steeply.

The Ofsted report did not describe the pupil movement at East Point Academy as "off-rolling."

However, a Tes investigation revealed that Ofsted did find recent evidence of off-rolling at the school even though this was not explicitly referred to in the published report. 

The documents obtained by Tes added to the controversy facing Ofsted about why the seemingly identical removal of students from school rolls is described as off-rolling in some inspection reports but not others.

Notes from Ofsted's visit to East Point Academy, run by the Inspiration Trust, says that off-rolling to AP [alternative provision] had now stopped but that this was new.

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