New evidence from the latest chief inspector's report suggests that this is indeed the case for some schools. Overall, inner London primaries inspected during 200102 reported that one in 12 pupils had joined during the year, while more than 9 per cent had left. London secondaries' turnover was lower, but was still much higher than other parts of England.
Pupil turnover is caused by a range of factors: family breakdown, a new job in a different area, children from other countries coming to join their parents or other family members in the UK, or the large-scale redeployment of armed forces personnel.
Every pupil movement poses some problems for teachers. However, some schools suffer much more disruption than others. The chief inspector's report notes that increasing levels of pupil turnover were associated with higher percentages of children eligible for free meals. This indicates that it is the education of the poorest children that is most affected by high turnover, whether they move schools or spend the whole year in constantly changing classes.
Such schools were adversely affected when league tables were introduced, because no allowance was made for the mobility problem. Even the new value-added tables may not reflect the full weight of the extra burden some schools have to carry.
Finally, since many of the schools affected by pupil mobility also have high levels of teacher turnover, especially in inner London, it is unsurprising that they do not appear successful on paper. If the next round of school improvements is to be successful, these schools will need effective support.
John Howson is a director of Education Data Surveys