Headteachers have called on Ofsted to carry out a consultation with schools on how it defines off-rolling before it launches a crackdown on the practice.
The NAHT heads' union has said that the inspectorate’s plans to deal with off-rolling are “confusing and contradictory” and could lead to “inconsistent and unreliable judgements.”
It has said the schools should only be found to be off-rolling after a thorough investigation – which it says Ofsted inspectors do not have time to carry out.
Quick read: 300 schools could be off-rolling
Need to know: Ofsted's crackdown on off-rolling
Ofsted has said that schools found to have met its definition of off-rolling are likely to be found "inadequate" under its new inspection framework.
However, the NAHT has questioned whether Ofsted has the statutory power to define off-rolling and why it has not consulted with the schools sector about this.
'Contradictory' guidance on off-rolling
The union's deputy general secretary, Nick Brook, said: “This is a matter that should have been the subject of specific and detailed consultation with the sector. NAHT calls on Ofsted to undertake such a consultation before the introduction of the new framework.”
Off-rolling, where schools remove pupils from their roll in order to boost their exam results, has become an increasing concern which Ofsted has committed itself to tackling.
Ofsted has defined off-rolling as “the practice of removing a learner from the provider’s roll without a formal, permanent exclusion or by encouraging a parent to remove their child, when the removal is primarily in the interests of the provider rather than in the best interests of the learner. Off-rolling in these circumstances is a form of ‘gaming’."
However, there have been concerns about how this will be applied on inspection.
So far Ofsted has found three schools that have met its definition of off-rolling under its existing inspection framework.
But a third school, Discovery Academy in Stoke-on-Trent, was rated as "good" overall despite having been found to have off-rolled pupils.
In this case, the pupils were moved to alternative provision during their secondary school education but only taken off the school’s roll in Year 11 as part of a city-wide agreement.
This case has prompted concerns about whether managed moves to alternative provisions could be classed as off-rolling by the inspectorate.
The NAHT says Ofsted's approach to the issue in the draft inspection handbook is "confused and contradictory".
In the union response to Ofsted's consultation on its new framework, Mr Brook said: "It appears that some ‘off-rolling’ will be regarded as ‘lawful’ even though there is no legal definition; yet it could be that inspectors may view ‘lawful’ actions as ‘off-rolling’.
“The handbook states that there are lots of activities that might constitute off-rolling, but does not list what these might be, and goes on to state ‘…there can be no hard and fast rules as to how it should be addressed’. NAHT is unclear about what a school, or an inspector, is to make of this.”
Mr Brook added: “The NAHT is deeply concerned that loose drafting and lack of clarity will result in subjective, inconsistent or unreliable judgements, the consequences of which could prove to be career-defining for a school leader.
“Given the high stakes associated with this judgement, it is critical that there is no ambiguity in the approach taken by inspectors. To come to a clear conclusion on ‘off-rolling’, NAHT would expect that a full and thorough investigation had taken place and that all available evidence had been properly scrutinised. NAHT does not believe there is sufficient time within the inspection tariff for inspectors to undertake such an investigation.”
Ofsted's consultation on its new framework closes today at 11.45pm.