Turnover knocks school standards

29th October 1999 at 01:00
Funding rules may be adapted to take account of pupil mobility. Chris Bunting reports

EFFORTS to boost educational standards in Britain's poorest regions are being hampered by high pupil turnover, a government-funded study concludes.

One in seven councils told researchers that they had schools where a third of pupils left and were replaced in a single year while one, unidentified school, lost more than 40 per cent of its pupils each year.

A fifth of local education authorities believe the constant movement of pupils damaged the work of one or more of their schools.

The interim findings of the study, conducted by Dr Janet Dobson and Kirsty Henthorne of University College, London and jointly funded by the Department for Education and Employment and the Nuffield Foundation, are likely to increase pressure on the Government to allow education funding to reflect pupil mobility.

At present, central government grants to councils take into account how many pupils are eligible for free school meals and the numbers using ethnic minority support services in schools, but not pupil turnover.

Pupil mobility can also have a major impact on league table places. Earlier this year, the London borough of Hackney suggested that its high turnover of primary-aged children could have cost it 34 places in the table of local authority results. A study by its officers, reported in The TES, showed that settled pupils - who stay at the same school from Reception to Year 6 - did significantly better than the borough average.

David Sanders, director of education in Blackpool, where some of the latest research was carried out, said the Government was waking up to the problem too slowly.

He said Blackpool suffered because of the large amount of seasonal work. Cheap bed-and-breakfast accommodation drew in people during the winter months. About one third of the authority's primary schools had pupil turnover of 40 per cent or more.

He added: "If you have a school that at the end of the year has 48 per cent of its population different from the start of the year, then it will have a major impact on achievement."

Chris Hassall, head of Taylor Road Primary School, Leicester, said his school had a 78 per cent turnover this year and 60 per cent in the two previous years.

"In September, I had 33 children in my class. By the end of September I had 39 children in my class. I took people in from Sweden, Holland, Somalia and various parts of the UK.

"Children are taking national tests when possibly as much as a quarter of them are newly admitted, with no previous schooling here."

He said Leicester council provided additional funding, equivalent to one extra member of staff, to help deal with the problem and he called on Government to make similar provision.

The Government has promised to use the findings of Dr Dobson's final report, expected next June, as the basis for any policy changes needed on the issue of pupil mobility. In September, it launched a scheme to track individual pupils' achievement from school to school, using identity numbers and computer records.

Document of the Week, 19

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