Her Majesty's Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has warned that “potentially high numbers” of pupils in Birmingham and Tower Hamlets, East London, could be at risk of harm because schools and local authorities have allowed them to leave school without knowing where they have gone.
In a letter to education secretary Nicky Morgan, the head of Ofsted says that schools have been removing pupils’ names from their admission registers with “only very generic” reasons recorded for doing so.
These include “gone to live with grandparents”, “moved to Manchester” and “gone back to Libya”, he says.
Sir Michael warns that some of these children may have been “exposed to harm, exploitation or the influence of extremist ideologies”.
Poor reporting systems make it “very difficult, if not impossible, for schools and local authorities to distinguish the minority of children who may be at risk from the majority who will be safe and receiving a suitable education in mainstream schools, registered independent schools or in their home,” he adds.
The concerns have emerged after Ofsted carried out unannounced inspections in June of seven schools in Birmingham and six schools and an alternative education provider in Tower Hamlets. It is monitoring schools in these areas as part of its response to the "Trojan Horse" scandal surrounding an alleged Islamist plot to influence schools in Birmingham. However, most of those inspected last month were not among those originally inspected in the wake of the scandal last year.
The unannounced inspections found “inconsistent practices for recording and reporting cases where children are removed from the school” as well as “poor communication and coordination between schools and local authorities on individual cases”, Sir Michael writes.
He argues that regulations on the in-year movement of pupils should be "urgently reviewed and considerably strengthened".