The attainment gap at the end of key stage 4 between advantaged and disadvantaged students widens when taking into account pupils who have left the roll of mainstream schools, according to new research.
In mainstream schools, less than half (47 per cent) of students from a disadvantaged background achieved a grade 4 or above in English or maths GCSE in 2018 compared to 72.6 per cent of their more advantaged peers, a 25.6 percentage point gap.
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But when students who have left the school rolls – not just those off rolled, but those who have moved into other types of schools or left education – were taken into account, the gap widened to almost 27 percentage points, new research by FFT Education Datalab research shows.
The researchers are calling for their approach of including all students in league tables – which received the backing of the Commons Education Select Committee in 2018 – to be adopted by the next government.
Until this is done, they claim, there will be an incentive to off roll pupils.
Philip Nye, a researcher who worked on the study, said: “With a few exceptions, school league tables only take into account pupils who make it to the end of Year 11. Our research shows that ignoring pupils who leave mainstream schools gives an overly rosy picture of how we’re doing on the disadvantage gap.
“And until all pupils are taken into account there will be an incentive to off-roll pupils, which a minority of schools and academy trusts will take advantage of.”
When school results were recalculated to take into account pupils who leave the rolls, researchers found that the proportion of advantaged students achieving a level 4 or above dropped to 72.1 per cent, but dropped by a greater amount for disadvantaged pupils to 45.2 per cent.
This means the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students increased by 1.3 percentage points when FFT Education Datalab researchers reweighed school league tables, making pupils count in proportion to the amount of time they have spent on the roll of a given school.
This is an average across all schools, and for the vast majority of mainstream schools, the impact is between the disadvantage gap going up by 5 percentage points, and down by 2.5 percentage points, Nye said.
But the difference taking students who left schools into account can make was quite striking for two outliers: in one school, the gap increased by 24 percentage points, while in another it decreased by almost 14 percentage points.
The research observed pupils moving into special education, alternative provision, university technical colleges and studio schools, or leaving state education entirely.
But it found an increase in the number of pupils leaving mainstream schools to an “unknown destination” out of state education. The number increased to 24,600 for the 2018 cohort up from 22,000 the year before– amid concern around off-rolling.
The researchers estimate that 6,700-9,200 of these 24,600 pupils remained in England at age 16 but did not count in school league tables or take any exams – and one-third of them were disadvantaged.
The researchers also call for the introduction of a register of pupils in home education, and the registration of all alternative providers of education.