Student off-rolling: Tactical game playing by unscrupulous school leaders

Why are school leaders exploiting vulnerable students and their families to game the league tables?

I am delighted that Amanda Spielman will be condemning the practice of  ‘off-rolling’ later today in her presentation. Nearly 10,000 students per year have disappeared from school rolls and many are year 11 students who disappear just before the January census where they would count in league tables.  Many children ‘invited to leave’ have SEN needs, often not met by a system in financial melt-down.  Many children who disappear come from families where they have no real ‘voice’ – the disenfranchised family.

So what are the incentives for school leaders to ‘off-roll?’

  • Pay rises for senior leaders. Yes – if a school gets great results, Heads and CEOS can get bumper pay rises.  So if you want to ensure that happens, you minimise your risks. So children that will have a ‘negative’ impact on your grades need to disappear.
  • Status – its important to look ‘good’ to your stakeholders. No-one wants to  talk about that ‘child’ who failed or that ‘bloody difficult family’ who don’t support the ethos of the school.   Challenging children are seen as  a blight to reputation and status of a school and need to be ‘gently’ and ‘quietly’ removed with minimum fuss.
  • Competition – Yes league tables and  your P8 ranking really do matter.  Secondary schools live for their P8 scores these days and it only takes a few ‘bad apples’ to upset the P8 basket.  So the basket needs to be emptied.
  • Exam results – every August school leaders get a little ‘giddy’ as they write their Press release (PR)  for exams.  You know you can write the PR with confidence before the 2 week Tuscany holiday  if you’ve had a little bit of ‘off-rolling’ beforehand.  It means the holiday is not ruined thinking about results.
  • Promotion and personal ambition  To climb the career ladder, you need to have a good story. Having excellent results and a lovely Ofsted narrative is a key pre-requisite these days. So its important not to have any children who don’t succeed in your story.
  • Fear – you’re only as good as your last set of results so many leaders in desperation need to do some ‘pruning’ to ensure results are good.

Now I may come across a little flippant and negative  but the above are genuine, serious  reasons why some school leaders have lost their moral compass.  The practice of ‘off-rolling’ is disgusting, illegal and most importantly disenfranchises families from their core entitlement – a good quality education. School leaders who commit off rolling should be banned from teaching.  Trusts, CEOS of MATS and school leaders who engage in this activity should be named and shamed. Ofsted should insist in seeing all leavers data and cross reference with local authorities.  This is not only poor leadership but a safeguarding ‘time bomb’ facilitated by a school system which is dysfunctional and encourages such abhorrent leadership behaviour.



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