Ofsted did find recent evidence of off-rolling at a school run by a high-profile academy trust, even though this was not included in the published report, notes from the inspection suggest.
New documents obtained by Tes add to the controversy facing the watchdog 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 stopped but that this was new.
The published report raised concerns about the way some students had been removed from the school roll after attending alternative provision, but it does not say that the school had been off-rolling.
Inspection: Ofsted looks into potential off-rolling concerns
Ofsted has faced questions about why this report did not describe the school as off-rolling when the practice being described appears to meet the watchdog’s own definition of it, and when the similar movement of students off school rolls elsewhere has resulted in other schools being downgraded.
And now Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, has questioned whether Ofsted is reluctant to find off-rolling at high-profile multi-academy trusts because it might be politically uncomfortable.
Ofsted has rejected this suggestion.
The published report for East Point in Lowestoft, Suffolk, said a monitoring inspection had taken place because chief inspector Amanda Spielman had potential off-rolling concerns.
But the visit was not converted into a full inspection and the school remains judged to be "good".
When the East Point Academy report was published in November last year, the Inspiration Trust said that “the report from Ofsted explicitly makes clear that there is no evidence of any off-rolling”.
However, inspection notes seen by Tes suggest inspectors did think that the school had been off-rolling in the past.
A bullet point in the notes describe the school as “no longer off-rolling to AP [alternative provision] but this is new”.
The notes also say that the school is too reliant on “Suffolk processes” and that the school’s headteacher and the trust’s chief executive Dame Rachel de Souza were challenged over this.
They also suggest that Inspiration Trust had not been completely open about some of its arrangements. In a section of the Ofsted notes examining which codes had been used to explain students' not being in school, it adds: “Early indications are evident that the trust are keen to get underneath this work although their candidness here is a little limited.”
However, the inspection notes also say that the school's use of these codes "does not suggest off-rolling" but "quite the opposite that pupils are kept on roll".
The published inspection report raised concerns about leaders’ “flimsy” work to understand why some students were choosing to leave East Point Academy to be home educated after the figures rose steeply.
It also revealed that Inspiration Trust's chief executive had admitted that some of the figures for students choosing to be home educated “were too high”.
But it says that there is no evidence that senior leaders or the trust encourage pupils and their families to leave the school.
Tes has asked Ofsted why the published inspection report for East Point Academy does not say that the school had been off-rolling when inspectors' notes suggest this had been taking place.
The inspectorate was also asked if it had found off-rolling at the school or whether the watchdog agreed with Inspiration Trust’s statement that Ofsted found no evidence of off-rolling.
Ofsted replied: “Our inspection reports speak for themselves.”
An Inspiration Trust spokesperson said: "In its final report on East Point, Ofsted concluded that there is no off-rolling at the academy, and that Inspiration Trust intervened to improve administrative processes around the student roll.
"Inspiration Trust had already recognised improvements were needed and these were made, including stopping the Suffolk-wide practice around AP school rolls.
“We took the inspection extremely seriously, as well as the issue of inclusion. We have gone above and beyond Ofsted’s recommendations to ensure that inclusion is centre stage at Inspiration Trust, for instance holding a trust-wide inclusion conference and putting in place a new inclusion strategy.
"We will continue to provide support and challenge to our schools to ensure that we all have the very best practice.”