The chair of the Commons Education Committee has said it is “deeply worrying” that Ofsted has failed to call out off-rolling in school inspection reports.
The watchdog defines off-rolling as removing a pupil from the school roll without a formal permanent exclusion, or by encouraging a parent to remove their child when this is “primarily in the interests of the school rather than in the best interests of the pupil”.
Robert Halfon has spoken out after Ofsted admitted last week that, in some cases, it has found the practice taking place in schools but not described it as “off-rolling” in reports.
The watchdog admitted that this had led to schools putting out press releases saying that off-rolling was not found there – because the watchdog had not used those words.
Inspections: Off-rolling not called out in Ofsted reports
The inspectorate has not named the schools in question and says the inspection reports will not be amended.
Mr Halfon voiced concern to Tes that schools have been able to “cover up” off-rolling.
He said: “Pressurising parents into removing their children to suit the needs of the school leads to children being denied their basic right to an education. The first step to cracking down on such a dubious practice must be for Ofsted to call it out publicly, so schools can be held accountable for their actions.
“It’s therefore deeply worrying to hear that schools have been so easily able to cover it up, despite the obvious concerns of inspectors.
“Schools should also publish data on the number of pupils who have left the school, alongside their permanent and fixed-term exclusion rates.
Ofsted’s failure to explicitly state where off-rolling was happening in previous reports has also been criticised by Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union.
She said: “Off-rolling is a terrible thing for a school to do. It is illegal because it harms the life chances of the most vulnerable children and young people.
“Ofsted has admitted that it inspectors’ found off-rolling in the schools they inspected but failed to name it for what it was. This is shameful. It tarnishes what Ofsted has left of its reputation for making fair and reliable inspection judgements.”
Ofsted’s admission was contained in an update to inspectors published last week. The update asked inspectors to ensure that, in future, they explicitly state that off-rolling has been found and use a standardised form of wording to avoid “ambiguity”.
A spokesperson added: “Off-rolling has been addressed in previous reports but may have been described in different ways. These changes will ensure the wording is standardised in future reports.”
The watchdog declined to comment further when asked by Tes how many reports had failed to mention off-rolling, whether Ofsted would clarify its reports so that parents of pupils in these schools know that off-rolling has been found or whether these schools would be prioritised for reinspection.