Teachers report 'fear-mongering' tactics used to off-roll students

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Teachers have spoken out about the “fear-mongering” tactics used by some schools to coerce parents into withdrawing their children.

Research commissioned by Ofsted and involving 1,018 teachers and school leaders has found that parents with less understanding of the education system and their rights are more likely to fall victim to the practice.

The report, published yesterday (Wednesday, May 15), adds to the range of recent evidence about the practice of “off-rolling” students.

Ofsted defines off-rolling as: “The practice of removing a pupil from the school roll without a formal, permanent exclusion or by encouraging a parent to remove their child from the school roll, when the removal is primarily in the interests of the school rather than in the best interests of the pupil.”

Earlier this month, a report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) suggested that 49,100 students from the cohort set to have finished year 11 in 2017 disappeared from school rolls with no explanation given – the equivalent of one in 12 pupils (or 8.1 per cent).

And in February, a report from the children’s commissioner for England revealed stories of schools that have pro forma letters declaring a decision to home-educate and parents who have signed up to home education without realising it.

Ofsted’s report found that one quarter of the teachers who responded have seen off-rolling take place in their school. Two-thirds, meanwhile, feel the practice is on the rise. The most common time is before GCSEs, either during years 10 and 11 before results are collected, or in year 9 before exam teaching begins.

The teachers spoke of “fear-mongering” tactics, whereby school management give parents a “worst case scenario” for their child’s future if they remain in the school.

One department head in a secondary academy school told researchers: “They make it easy for a parent to do it themselves, so make it clear that it will be difficult for their child to stay and make the arrangements for the child to move school.

“If they have decided that a parent could be an easy touch or is not well educated themselves then they take the informal approach.”

The report includes the results of telephone interviews with a number of the respondents. It finds that schools most commonly emphasise to parents that alternative provision for SEN would be more suited to their pupil. The report states: “While true in many cases, a few (of the teachers) felt that this argument was not always accurate and instead used to leverage out a pupil with behavioural issues who also has low academic attainment.

“Some (teachers) spoke of fear-mongering among parents, with management painting a ‘worse case scenario’ for the child’s future if they remained within the school. One mentioned how this tactic could be used to encourage a school transfer in place of an exclusion (which would be included on the schools’ exclusions record).

“Some spoke about how it was easier to remove a pupil with parents who had less understanding of the education system and their legal rights. Often these parents also had lower education levels and/or were EAL.”

Respondents said that pupils with behavioural issues, low academic achievement, SEN and with difficult home lives are among those most likely to be targeted. Indeed, respondents said that off-rolling was “easier to justify” when behavioural issues were involved. This echoes previous research findings showing that vulnerable students with SEN or other needs are more likely to be off-rolled.

The Ofsted research found that only one-third of teachers who said they had experienced off-rolling believed that off-rolled pupils went on to other mainstream schools, while only one-fifth said that there was any follow-up to check what had happened to pupils.

Half of the respondents to the survey who had experienced off-rolling said that the practice was taking place to boost or maintain league table performances, while a fifth said it was to avoid adding to the school’s exclusion record. Fourteen per cent said it was because of pressure to maintain or achieve a high Ofsted grade.

Under the new Education Inspection Framework (EIF) from September 2019 – which was launched on Tuesday May 14 – Ofsted is to look more closely for off-rolling practices within schools.

Commenting on the survey findings Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said: “These are troubling findings. While not every school is off-rolling, teachers tell us that some are clearly pushing vulnerable pupils out through the back door with little thought to their next steps and best interests.

“Ofsted takes a dim view of off-rolling. When inspectors uncover evidence of this happening we make it clear in our inspection reports. And under our new inspection regime, taking effect in September, schools found to be off-rolling are likely to be rated inadequate for their leadership and management.”

  • Off-rolling: One in 12 students ‘disappeared’ from mainstream schools, SecEd, May 2019: http://bit.ly/2Q4xi0K
  • Huge rise in home education sparks ‘off-rolling’ accusations, SecEd, February 2019: http://bit.ly/2U1cqf0
  • Ofsted publishes final EIF and offers schools a grace period for curriculum reviews, SecEd, May 2019: http://bit.ly/2vWTu3v


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