House of Commons Library

Off-rolling in English schools

Published Monday, December 10, 2018

This Commons Library Briefing Paper provides an overview of the concerns that increasing numbers of children in England are being 'off-rolled' - being excluded or otherwise leaving school for reasons that do not serve their best interests

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There are many reasons why children might be removed from the school roll, from moving home to permanent exclusion following disciplinary action. In recent years, however, concerns have been raised about children leaving the school roll for other reasons, for example to ‘game’ the school performance system, or to relieve financial pressure on schools. Children who are removed from school for these reasons, perhaps through exclusions or parents withdrawing them from school for home education, are commonly said to be ‘off-rolled’.

Off-rolling of this kind is difficult to measure, as it takes place through legitimate channels – for example, pupils may be excluded according to the law, and parents have the right to home educate their child if they wish to do so. Rising exclusion numbers, particularly towards the end of schooling, as well as concerns raised from within the school system, have alerted Ofsted and the Office of the School Adjudicator, as well as the Government, to off-rolling as a problem.

The suggested reasons behind a potential rise in off-rolling include:

  • Unintended incentives through school performance measures such as Progress 8 to remove lower-performing pupils from a school’s score
  • Financial pressures on schools, incentivising the removal of some children from the school roll

The Government has made clear that it considers off-rolling unacceptable and that exclusion for non-disciplinary reasons is unlawful. It has not ruled out legislation to provide more accountability for schools that permanently exclude children and place them in alternative provision, and is taking steps to limit the extent to which a pupil’s poor results can affect the school average for Progress 8 and primary-level progress measures.

A review of school exclusion policy, as well a consultation on home education that considers related measures, are also in progress.

Off-rolling, however, remains a consistent concern for leaders in education and has received a good deal of press attention. Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, recently stated in an interview that off-rolling “absolutely could get worse.”

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8444

Authors: Robert Long; Shadi Danechi

Topics: Ofsted, Schools

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