Off-rolling and the state of education governance

Earlier this month The Education Policy Institute published a report into unexplained pupil exits from schools https://epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/unexplained-pupil-exits/ Their paper raised the question about whether this was a growing problem? A good survey of the background to the issue, and how it has gained prominence, can be found in a House of Commons briefing paper at https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-8444#fullreport first published last December. For those with access to the Local Government Information Unit publications, John Fowler has also written a helpful policy briefing on the subject.

The House of Commons paper starts with a helpful explanation of the issue and why it is important.

What is ‘off-rolling’ and why are concerns being raised?

There are many reasons that children may be removed from the school roll. For example, children may legitimately be excluded from schools, move to another school that is more suitable for them, or simply move home. Parents also have the right to educate their child at home if they wish. Recent years, however, have seen concerns being raised that children are leaving school rolls in rising numbers, in particular as they approach GCSE level, because of pressures within the school system. It has been suggested that increased ‘off-rolling’ is taking place because of the impact of pupils who are likely to perform relatively poorly in their examinations on school performance measures, and because schools may be struggling to support children who need high levels of support, for example pupils with special educational needs. Off-rolling of this kind might involve children being excluded for reasons that are not legitimate, or parents being encouraged to home educate a child where they would not otherwise have chosen to do so. Excluding children from school for non-disciplinary reasons is unlawful. Children who are off-rolled may move to another school, into alternative provision, or into home education.

In the present muddled state of education governance, local authorities may no longer operate schools, but they retain residual responsibilities, not least where schooling intersects with child safety concerns. Thus, as John Fowler points out, the DfE is reviewing its statutory guidance on Children Missing Education and the requirement in the Education (Pupil Registration) Regulations 2006, as amended in 2016, in order to publish a review by 30 September 2019 of regulation 5. This is the regulation that covers the contents of the admission register, along with regulation 8 that deals with deletions from the admission register, and regulation 12 that covers information to be provided to the local authority.

In Oxfordshire, all but one of our secondary schools are now academies. What sanctions does the local authority have if schools do not comply with the requirement to notify an exit from school by a pupil, especially by a pupil at the start of Year Eleven where they still would not count towards a school’s results the following summer? A rule that has no sanctions attached is a rule that can be broken with impunity.

In an earlier post on this blog about youth justice I suggested that ‘any secondary school with more than 8% of its current annual revenue grant held in reserves and also with an above average figure for permanent exclusions across years 10 and 11 and any off-rolling of pupils in those years for pupils with SEND should have 50% of the excess of their reserves above the 8% level removed by the government and reallocated to the local Youth Offending Team.’ (March 11th 2019 post headed youth Justice)

If it is more cost effective for schools to remove challenging pupils than to retain them on roll, then there is little incentive, especially when funds are tight, to keep to either the letter or the spirit of the law. At the next Cabinet meeting in Oxfordshire I will be probing this matter further through a tabled question.

 

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One of the success stories of the past decade has been the reduction in the number of young people held in custody, both on remand and after sentencing. Sadly, with the present increase in ‘knife’ crime that trend may well be reversed over the coming few months.

Perhaps the increase in violent crime might have been reduced in scale had the Funding to help local authorities keep young people away from crime and re-offending not been halved since 2010. Youth justice grants, which fund council youth offending teams, have been reduced from £145m in 2010-11 to £71.5m in 2018-19, according to the Local Government Association. Furthermore, even though councils have already set their budgets for 2019-20, they are still awaiting their allocations for youth justice grants, thus, according to the Local Government Association, making it “extremely difficult” to plan services aimed at preventing gangs and violent crime.

Now it stands to reason that although the number of young people entering the youth Justice system is sharply down on the terrible days of the Labour government – by some 86% for the drop in first time entrants to the youth justice system – again according to the Local Government Association, many already in the system may be continuing to reoffend. . https://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2019/03/youth-offending-team-funding-halved?utm_source=Adestra&utm_medium=email&utm_term=

Cutting the grant for Youth Justice Services seems like another short-sighted attempt to save cash, where it may have actually had the opposite result in practice. Youth offending teams cannot devise schemes to held reduce re-offing, especially among what used to be termed ‘persistent young offenders’ if they no longer have the funds to do their work.

So, here is a suggestion. Any secondary school with more than 8% of its current annual revenue grant held in reserves and also with an above average figure for permanent exclusions across years 10 and 11 and any off-rolling of pupils in those years for pupils with SEND should have 50% of the excess of their reserves above the 8% level removed by the government and reallocated to the local Youth Offending Team.

Yes, the suggestion is crude, and if it catches any genuine cases, then the local Youth Offending Team can work with those schools to reallocate the funds to appropriate programmes.

This is a one-off short-term solution to allow government, in this time of policy paralysis, to find a better long-term solution to the increase in crime among teenagers and the cash to support new programmes over the longer-term.

At present, although more schools are reporting deficits, some have put money aside for a rainy day in a prudent manner, these latter group of schools would only be affected under these proposals if they had also shifted the burden of educating some challenging pupils onto others.

Cash in reserves is sterile public money, and with a need to deal with the present increase in violent crime, something needs to be done and quickly. Of course, if the government can find new cash in the Spring Statement my solution won’t be necessary.