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Off-rolling: The pupils most at risk of ‘unexplained moves’

Heads' leaders admit the fact that certain vulnerable pupil groups are particularly likely to be affected is 'worrying'

Unexplained moves off-rolling vulnerable pupils

Black pupils, children with low prior attainment, and those who have experienced an official exclusion and are all much more likely to experience an “unexplained” exit from school – which could include being “off-rolled”.

Today, the Education Policy Institute published research on unexplained pupil moves which are likely to be instigated by schools rather than parents. The analysis included moves between schools as well as those exiting the school system entirely.


Read: 55,000 ‘unexplained moves’ raises ‘off-rolling’ concerns

Analysis: What does the EPI research mean?

Need to know: What is off-rolling?


The thinktank uncovered 55,000 such moves in English secondary schools between Year 7 and Year 11 for the cohort of pupils which took their GCSEs in 2017.

David Laws, the executive chairman of the EPI, said that the size of moves was “disturbing” and raised “concerns about whether some schools are ‘off-rolling’ pupils”.

While about 8.1 per cent (one in 12) of the cohort had an unexplained exit, the study found that some pupils are much more likely to experience it.

Those most likely to experience an unexplained move were:

  • Pupils with a high number of authorised school absences (two in five experienced at least one unexplained exit)
  • Pupils who have experienced an official permanent exclusion (one in three), or who had experienced an official fixed period exclusion (one in five)
  • Pupils in contact with the social care system (one in three)
  • Those eligible for free school means (one in seven)
  • Those in the lowest prior attainment quartile from primary school (one in eight)
  • Those from black ethnic backgrounds (one in eight)

The EPI research follows concerns that some schools are unofficially removing vulnerable pupils from their rolls to try to improve their exam results.

Analysis by Ofsted in December has already suggested that vulnerable children, those with special educational needs and disabilities, those eligible for free school meals and some minority ethnic groups, are more likely to leave the school system in this way.

Responding to the EPI research, Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The number of unexplained exits uncovered in the research is worryingly high, and the fact that certain vulnerable pupil groups are particularly likely to be affected is also worrying.”

However, he said some parents choose to take their children out of a school “without any pressure being applied” and cautioned against “jumping to conclusions” from the research.

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