Ofsted is inspecting two schools run by a multi-academy trust embroiled in a row over claims that pupils were “off-rolled” into its alternative provision in order to improve school progress scores.
The inspectorate was asked to investigate allegations that the GORSE Academies Trust off-rolled pupils by moving them from the roll of mainstream schools into alternative provision to boost results.
Tes understands that Ofsted inspectors went into the Farnley Academy in Leeds yesterday and are due to begin inspecting the Stephen Longfellow Academy, an alternative provision free school run by GORSE, today.
Leeds City Council had asked the inspectorate to intervene after Tes revealed an internal document from GORSE Academies Trust showed that staff had considered how taking low-achieving “anchor” pupils off a school roll could improve its Progress 8 scores.
The council accused the trust of following up on this plan from 2016 by off-rolling pupils from their mainstream academies into the Stephen Longfellow alternative provision school in January of the past two years.
However, GORSE Academies Trust’s chief executive, Sir John Townsley, has strongly denied allegations of off-rolling.
Sir John said that while pupils from GORSE schools and other schools were put on to the roll of the alternative provision in January 2018 and January 2019, this did not constitute off-rolling and had been "done in full partnership with the Department for Education".
He also said that the document seen by Tes was “a theoretical discussion paper, which sought to examine a range of acceptable and totally unacceptable practices", which, at that time, were taking place across the country.
But "at no point did we implement any unacceptable practices" from the paper, he added.
The document from November 2016 said that the approach of staff looking at the issues was to: “Come at the problem with no preconceived ideas or ethical considerations; we simply want to test curriculum models to see which tend to generate the highest P8 scores for the academy.”
Ethics were to be considered by the trust's board at a later date, according to the report.
It also said that issues surrounding taking pupils off a school’s roll were “tricky” but that this would become simpler once it opened Stephen Longfellow – its own alternative provision free school, adding: “With Stephen Longfellow Academy starting in 2017, we have an opportunity to move students to an appropriate provision before they become an issue in [key stage 4].”
Ofsted has launched a crackdown on off-rolling and has said it will inspect schools where high pupil movement has been identified.
Earlier this week, when asked to comment on the GORSE Academies document and Leeds Council’s concerns, the inspectorate said it did not comment on its inspection schedule.
A spokesperson added: “But as we’ve made clear, Ofsted takes a dim view of off-rolling. When our inspectors uncover evidence of this happening, we make it clear in our inspection reports.”
When Tes first broke the story, Sir John said: “It is correct to say that pupils from a wide range of schools, including schools not within the GORSE Academies Trust, were put on to the roll of the Stephen Longfellow Academy in January of 2018 and January 2019.
"We wholeheartedly refute the suggestion that this constitutes off-rolling and have done this in full partnership with the DfE and ESFA [Education and Skills Funding Agency].
"The movement of pupils on to the roll of the Stephen Longfellow Academy is set out in our funding agreement as a part of our original application.
"Pupils are moved on to the roll of the Stephen Longfellow Academy because it is felt by those connected to the educational provision of the child that it is in their best interests.
"We have compelling evidence that pupils with us at the Stephen Longfellow Academy have done exceptionally well as a result of their time with us; much better than they would otherwise have done. This does not constitute off-rolling."
Tes has also revealed that GORSE Academies Trust has agreed to provide the DfE with details of the impact moving pupils into alternative provision has had on their outcomes.