A headteachers’ union is urging Ofsted and the Department for Education to provide answers on what constitutes off-rolling after a recent crackdown on the practice by inspectors.
The Association of School and College Leaders' inspection specialist, Steve Rollett, told Tes that he was seeking talks with the inspectorate to address headteachers’ concerns about how it will views pupils being moved into alternative provision (AP).
The move follows a controversial recent Ofsted report in which a school was found to be off-rolling after it took children off its roll in Year 11 following their earlier move into AP.
Quick read: Three schools found to be off-rolling
Quick read: Ofsted set to fail off-rolling schools
Background: What is off-rolling?
Ofsted defines off-rolling as “the practice of removing a pupil from the school roll without a formal, permanent exclusion or by encouraging a parent to remove their child from the school roll when the removal is primarily in the interests of the school rather than in the best interests of the pupil”.
What is off-rolling?
However, Mr Rollett said this still leaves uncertainty among heads about what will be considered off-rolling by inspectors.
The inspectorate has said that schools found to be off-rolling in future are likely to be judged "inadequate" under its new inspection framework.
Mr Rollett said: “I think there is a risk that it could affect legitimate movement of students into alternative provision. It could make leaders less confident around that.
“If leaders are less confident then there is a risk about what is in the best interest of children. Alternative provision is a resource for children, leaders have got to feel able to use that when it’s in the best interests of children.
“I know Ofsted has published its definition of off-rolling but I am not sure firstly whether that definition is tight enough, but also what does that mean on the ground for school leaders?
“It might mean something to inspectors but what does it mean to school leaders?
“School leaders will be saying, 'We are doing something which is legal and has in some cases been authorised by the local authority.'”
As Tes revealed earlier this year Ofsted has found three schools to be off-rolling.
Two of the schools, Harrop Fold School, which featured in TV’s Educating Greater Manchester series, and Shenley Academy, in Birmingham, were both rated as "inadequate".
However, Discovery Academy, in Stoke-on-Trent, was found to be "good" but told that it "requires improvement" for its leadership and management.
Suitable alternative provision
The school had moved pupils to alternative provision that Ofsted described as good quality.
The school is part of Alpha Academies Trust. Chief executive Sarah Robinson told Tes that the pupils had spent the majority of their secondary education in alternative provision and that the timing of their removal from the school roll was part of a city-wide arrangement with the local council.
The school and council have now agreed not to do this in future.
An Ofsted spokesperson said: “We have always said that permanent exclusion should only ever be used as a last resort.
“There is a clear difference between off-rolling, which serves only the interests of the school, and moving a pupil who is failing in mainstream school to suitable alternative provision, where they have the best chance of future success.
"Our concern arises when such moves are not decided in the educational interests of the pupil.
"Sometimes pupils end up in unsuitable or unregistered provision, where no one has oversight of their education, and many end up dropping out of the system entirely.
"Our inspectors have the necessary training and experience to identify and understand the difference between off-rolling and the carefully considered use of managed moves.”
Ofsted has called on the DfE to record data on managed moves in the same way it does with pupil exclusions.
Last spring the government launched an externally led review of exclusions practice, led by former minister Edward Timpson, which is due to publish shortly.
This is looking into how exclusions are used, why certain groups are disproportionally affected, and why there are variations between regions. The review will consider off-rolling and also managed moves.