Ofsted has delivered a damning verdict on a free school found to have actively encouraged parents to home-educate their children or move them to a different school.
Ofsted inspectors have rated Heyford Park Free School, in Oxfordshire, as "inadequate" after finding that senior leaders "off-rolled" pupils.
The school has said that an external expert will investigate the inspector’s findings by scrutinising all those who have left the school recently.
It said it would take appropriate action if required and was very carefully monitoring the circumstances surrounding all pupils leaving the school.
The Ofsted report comes amid national concerns that parents are being "coerced" into home education, although named examples of schools doing this can be hard to come by.
A recent Tes investigation uncovered how an unnamed academy had asked a parent, who couldn't read, to sign a letter saying that they had chosen to take their child out of school to educate them at home.
Today's report on Heyford Park states: "Senior leaders have engaged in taking some pupils off the register by encouraging some parents to home-educate or to seek different schools for their children."
It calls on trustees to hold leaders accountable for the progress of all groups of pupils and to "eliminate the practice of off-rolling".
Inspectors also said that the school’s provision for vulnerable pupils and those with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) was far from good enough.
The inspectorate defines off-rolling as removing a pupil from the roll without a formal exclusion where this is being done in the interests of the school rather than the pupil.
Ofsted cracks down on off-rolling
Many of the first Ofsted findings of off-rolling have related to the way schools have taken pupils off their register after they had already moved into alternative provision.
Today’s report is more unusual as inspectors have concluded that leaders sought to persuade some parents to move their children out of the school.
The inspection report rates the school as "inadequate" overall and for its leadership and management, the quality of its education, the behaviour and attitudes of pupils and its personal development of pupils.
The early years at the all-through school, which has pupils aged 3 to 18, is said to be "good" and the sixth form is rated as "requires improvement".
The school was rated as "good" at its last inspection.
The report also says safeguarding systems are not “sufficiently robust and risk assessments are not always followed.” It says senior leaders and trustees should take immediate action to ensure that this is addressed.
In a question and answer document produced by the school in response to the Ofsted judgement, the school said: "We are focusing all our energy on improvements for the school as a whole.
"We are all very disappointed, but we have been incredibly busy since the inspection taking steps to deliver rapid improvements throughout the school and focus on addressing the specific issues raised by the Ofsted inspection team."
The statement said that the school had been affected by the serious illness and extended absence of the school principal over the past year.
The new Ofsted report’s findings were reported today on the Education Uncovered site.
Ofsted has made tackling off-rolling – which schools have been accused of doing to improve their league table rankings – a key priority in its new inspection framework.
In her annual report published yesterday, chief inspector Amanda Spielman said that Ofsted will inspect schools if it has concerns about high pupil movement.
She said: "Over the past year, we have continued to be concerned about the number of pupils leaving schools without another school to go to, and without a formal exclusion process.
“Twenty thousand pupils left their state-funded secondary schools between Year 10 (2017) and Year 11 (2018).
"There are 340 schools with exceptional levels of pupil movement, of which we have inspected around 100 this year. It is important to understand that there are legitimate reasons for pupils moving between schools.”