Unexplained pupil exits from schools: a growing problem?

This report from the UK think tank Education Policy Institute looks at estimates of the potential size of so-called “off-rolling” in the school system.

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) has published the most comprehensive analysis to date of unexplained pupil exits from English schools, using over a decade’s worth of Department for Education data. The research improves on estimates of the potential size of so-called “off-rolling” in the school system – where schools informally remove pupils in order to boost GCSE results, or for other reasons. While the number of official school exclusions is recorded by the government, too little has been known about the phenomenon of pupils who are removed from school rolls unofficially. These unexplained pupil moves are not consistently recorded or regulated. This new report fills this evidence gap by examining the prevalence of unexplained pupil exits nationally. The study considers unexplained pupil moves that have taken place both between schools, and those involving pupils leaving the school system entirely.

The research is the most comprehensive to date examining unexplained pupil exits in the school system. For the first time, it takes into account pupils removed from school rolls due to family reasons. The report draws on data spanning over a decade, and tracks pupil exits in three separate age groups, through their whole time in secondary education, from year 7-11. Key findings include: There is a high prevalence of unexplained pupil exits from school rolls: 1 in 12 pupils (8.1 per cent) from the cohort that finished year 11 in 2017 were removed from school rolls for reasons that are not accounted for by family decisions. This totals over 55,000 unexplained pupil exits, and has grown from previous years – both in terms of pupil numbers, and proportionally. A small number of schools have particularly high rates of pupil exits: just 6 per cent of secondary schools in England (330 schools) account for almost a quarter (23 per cent) of the total number of unexplained moves in the 2017 pupil cohort. These schools with very high exit rates have removed the equivalent of an entire classroom of children from a single year group, as they have moved through secondary school, from 2012 to 2017. Pupils with certain characteristics are disproportionately represented among those exiting school rolls: 1 in 3 pupils in the social care system, 1 in 7 disadvantaged pupils, and 1 in 8 black pupils experience unexplained school moves.

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