The FFT Education datalab, which authored the Who’s Left report, has expressed concerns about between 6,200 and 7,700 “vulnerable” pupils who left mainstream education between year 7 and year 11 and cannot be accounted for elsewhere.
It found that this group are “more likely to have been eligible for free schools meals, have special educational needs, and have had lower attainment at primary school”.
Pupils who failed to sit their GCSEs or equivalent in 2017, or if they did, did not apply to further education, authors said “reinforce the concerns that we have about off-rolling”.
Off-rolling is a controversial procedure which involves excluding children from school but not necessarily doing so through formal procedures.
League tables measure the results of those who are in school in the January of year 11, giving schools “perverse incentive to lose pupils who would bring results down”, the report states.
Researchers said: “We remain concerned that in some cases, pupils seen leaving school rolls will have been off-rolled – encouraged off the roll of a mainstream school in an informal exclusion in which the school’s best interests have trumped the pupil’s.
“The outcomes for the group identified above, who were either not recorded as having taken any GCSEs or equivalent qualifications, or, if they did, whose results did not count towards any establishment, reinforce the concerns that we have about off-rolling.”
However, the report concluded it was not possible to put a number on pupils who had been off-rolled, but said the practice was only done by a “small minority of heads”.
Authors found that 22,000 pupils left mainstream secondary schools in England before the end of Year 11 in 2017 – 10% more than in each of the previous three years.
Some of these pupils may have emigrated or moved to independent schools, the report said.
Since 2015, children and young adults in England have been required by law to stay in full-time education or training until the age of 18.
The report authors said: “Can the Department for Education say that they are satisfied that all pupils who leave the rolls of mainstream schools are receiving a suitable education?
“And are they satisfied that local authorities have the resources they need to follow up cases where pupils leave the roll of a mainstream school?”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Exclusions guidance specifically states that informal or unofficial exclusions – such as encouraging parents to take their children out of school – are unlawful under all circumstances.
“Any decision to exclude a pupil should be lawful, reasonable and fair, and must be formally recorded by the school. Our guidance outlines how exclusions should be used, and includes summaries for schools and parents on the rules of exclusions.”