Leeds Council committee to begin ‘off-rolling’ inquiry into city's schools

An influential Leeds City Council committee is set to hold a “full inquiry” into the practice of “off-rolling” of school students in Leeds.

Thursday, 24th October 2019, 6:00 am

It followed a discussion on the practice of schools removing pupils from their rolls without formally excluding them. This can be done either by schools overusing alternative provision, or by pressuring parents into educating their children at home.

And, following a meeting in which it was claimed that some schools in Leeds might be using such techniques to boost their exam results, the council’s children and families scrutiny board has now opted to investigate the issue further.

The discussion followed the publication of two reports released earlier this year, one by Sir Edward Timpson into school exclusions and another by the children’s commissioner into skipping school. Both highlighted the issue of off-rolling in schools across the country.

Councillors have called for an inquiry into off-rolling.

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The council’s head of children’s services, Steve Walker, told the meeting: “The issue of off-rolling is simply the removal of children from the roll of a school in a manner that is not in the best interests of that child. Given the significance, it is now something Ofsted are looking at.”

“It is the question of is this decision being made in a manner that allows the child to return or is it a case that the responsibility is being moved to alternative provision?”

Alternative provision is when a local authority arranges for a child to be educated outside of their usual school in specialised settings, usually due to behavioural or learning issues.

Coun Caroline Gruen (Lab) asked what an acceptable form of this would look like.

The authority’s deputy director in charge of learning, Phil Mellen, said: “Alternative provision should be an opportunity to reset and return, and that would be the ambition and the case for most children and young people.

“The time spent with specialist staff, smaller groups, therapeutic and academic inputs can then by negotiation work with that young person and their family to then return to a mainstream school is ideal.

“But the issue we have with this is: where does that responsibility lie for that child or young person?

“If that young person moves in year eight or nine and it becomes clear they won’t be moving back to mainstream, all the work that is being done is on keeping them safe and giving them a good access to a curriculum. Then it is probably appropriate that the roll changes to be permanently at that school.

“Where we see children moving much later in secondary school, I would question where is the benefit for that young person.

“They are already there, they are getting the provision, but by getting onto the roll of the alternate provision, they gain nothing. The only people that gain is the school that is responsible for exam results.”

Coun Hannah Bithell (Lab) called on schools to make information on how many children were being put into isolation.

She said: “It would be great to see if there is something that can be done, through the chair, to try and get that data to be statutory, because that is covering a lot of ills.”

Committee chair Alan Lamb (Con) said: “In the employment world, if you go about trying to force somebody out of their job without going through a process, that becomes constructive dismissal.”

He went on to ask what families can do if they feel their child has been “constructively” removed from school.

Mr Mellen responded: “Parents have the right to appeal to governing bodies if they feel that has happened – or to Ofsted. If there has been a sufficient number of qualified complaints have been independently reported by parents, then Ofsted are the ultimate arbiters of what is inappropriate or illegal.

“One problem is that CEOs and executive headteachers can be imposing people and, therefore, parents can feel afraid of challenging because they think something bad may happen to their child or they will be marked in some way where they cannot get into another school in that trust or that city.”

Coun Lamb concluded: “I am going to make the assumption that I am not alone in feeling that we want to do some more work on this. I would propose we go to a full inquiry.

“We have to put at the heart of it what is at the best interests of the children.”

He added that the committee would make visits to schools, and invited representatives of schools to speak to the panel.