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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 – 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, the Office of the School Adjudicator, and the Children’s Commissioner for England, 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.

The Timpson review of school exclusions, published in May 2019, prompted the Government to commit to review its school exclusions guidance by summer 2020, and to announce a consultation on how to hold schools accountable for their excluded children.

A consultation on home education that considers related measures is 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.” The revised Ofsted Inspection Framework, in place since September 2019, the subject of a recent consultation, includes a focus on off-rolling and that schools found to be off-rolling would likely have their leadership and management judged to be inadequate in the subsequent report.

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