More than 60,000 Year 11 pupils had an unexplained exit from their secondary school over the previous five years, a new report reveals.
The Education Policy Institute think tank has said the figures give the “most refined estimate to date of the potential size of so-called off-rolling in the school system”.
However, it said the statistics did not show whether these exits were in the interests of the pupils and so they could not be conclusively be defined as off-rolling.
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Here are six key findings from the new report:
Fears of off-rolling
The report says that while there is not a large difference between multi-academy trusts and local authority schools in the rates of unexplained exits overall, larger MATs have above average rates of unexplained exits.
The EPI also found that in most of these larger MATs there were above average rates of permanent school exclusions.
Unexplained pupil exits
The report says that within some school groups – either MATs or maintained schools in a particular local authority area - there are concentrations of unexplained pupil exits.
Vulnerable pupils affected
In the most extreme cases, two MATs and seven local authorities had one school that lost at least the equivalent of an entire class of pupils (30 children) over five years.
The EPI said the “overwhelming majority” of unexplained exits – around three-quarters – were experienced by vulnerable pupils.
This included: more than one in three (36.2 per cent) of all pupils who had also experienced a permanent exclusion; around one in three (29.8 per cent) of all "looked-after" pupils, more than one in four (27 per cent) of all pupils with identified mental health needs (SEMH), around one in six (15.6 per cent) of all poorer pupils and one in six (15.7 per cent) of all pupils with identified special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
The EPI found the majority of pupils experiencing unexplained exits (52 per cent) failed to join any school in the term immediately following the exit.
It also found that around 24,000 children who left a school for an unknown destination did not return to a state-funded school by the spring term of Year 11.
More transparency 'urgently needed'
The report says there is an urgent need for “far better data, monitoring and transparency around pupil moves in the school system".
The report adds: “This is especially the case for ‘voluntary’ managed moves between schools, as well as pupil moves out of the system into home schooling.”
The EPI report into unexplained exits includes managed moves between schools, which it says account for 12 per cent of the overall figure.
It says the government should improve the guidance to schools that recognises the complex causes of pupils’ behavioural difficulties.
The EPI also suggests that school performance and accountability measures should reward more inclusive schools.
And it says the government review of high-needs funding should consider how to use funding to promote inclusion and early support for children with SEND.