Since 2012 ROTA has been gathering evidence on informal school exclusions – and its various guises such ‘off rolling’ and ‘home schooling’ –  to the detriment of pupils and their families who have experienced this. We also have evidence that young BAME pupils may be disproportionately affected.  It comes as no surprise to ROTA that not only is this practice continuing in 2018 but may be increasing. 

Off-rolling is increasing as schools struggle to improve grade averages by removing pupils unlikely to achieve well in their exams. A recent investigation by the Times newspaper (28th August 2018) made front page news with claims that in 2018 almost 13,000 pupils – were ‘off-rolled’ during their GCSE year – a strategy  thought to be strongly suggestive of a way for schools to improve grade averages by removing pupils considered unlikely to perform well. 

The Education Select Committee, to whom ROTA has previously submitted evidence on informal school exclusions, reported in July 2018 that manipulating the GCSE league tables through the illegal practice of off-rolling pupils prior to exams is affecting the educational opportunities of ‘thousands of vulnerable children.’ (HoC, Education Select Committee, 2018 )

Few schools will admit to off-rolling pupils for other than ‘legitimate’ reasons. Based on interviews with pupils, teachers and youth organisations, ROTA has suspected for some time that schools have been removing pupils from the roll for reasons of boosting GCSE exam results in the league tables. Obtaining statistical evidence has been fraught with difficulty.  Few schools will admit to referring pupils to alternative provision or PRUs for any reason other than legitimate ones, such as where they endanger other pupils or where there are particularly challenging difficulties which the child may face in the classroom. 

Some children appear to have disappeared from records altogether. It is of even more concern that PRU admissions do not account for all the children who have disappeared off-roll. Using pupil-level data from the Department for Education for 2017-2018, Ofsted found that of the number listed as having been removed from school (19,000 pupils in total) half were recorded as having moved elsewhere or been sent to alternative provision, but ‘the other half could not be accounted for’. This figure should prompt immediate questions about their whereabouts and welfare. ROTA has evidence to suggest that ‘home schooling’ may account for some missing pupils, but as there are few verifiable statistics available on home schooling,  it is impossible to say what the true number is. Nor what has happened to those who are not being home-schooled. 

There is increasing evidence of a link between exclusion and offending. According to the Office of the Children’s Commission, there is an association between the climbing rate of exclusion and a rise in juvenile offending, evidenced by an increasing number of young people who identify as gang members.  (Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner, June 2018.)

The Children’s Commissioner may have good cause to be alarmed. The Times reported that troubled pupils, excluded from school, ‘often become the target for gangs’ with some local PRUs becoming the ‘recruitment centres’ for gangs.  ROTA’s contact with professionals working in the youth sector, supplementary schools and with juvenile offenders tends to support this claim. We have been told, for example, that a high proportion of young people who end up in juvenile offending institutions have experienced exclusion from school.

The Department for Education has not yet taken any specific steps to address the issue of off-rolling. The response so far of the DfE to the evidence on informal exclusions has been little more than to remind schools of the rules, i.e. that informal or unofficial exclusions are unlawful.  ROTA concurs with the 5th Education Select Committee Report (July 2018) which condemns the DfE’s inability to take action over a practice which is essentially part of its own making:

Off-rolling is in part driven by school policies created by the Department for Education. The Department cannot wash its hands of the issue, just as schools cannot wash their hands of their pupils.’ (Education Select Committee, 2018.)

BAME young people experience informal exclusion disproportionately but the issue remains largely unaddressed.  Other organisations have been looking into informal exclusions, but not specifically at how certain BAME communities are affected. Although it is acknowledged that Black Caribbean, Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller communities most frequently experience exclusion, this is not definitive. ROTA has identified other young people – excluded or at risk of exclusion –  from specific ethnic groups, including those recently arrived to the UK. Further evidence needs to be gathered on these groups of children.

What can be done now? ROTA expects to address this particular gap in the research through a community-led programme with young BAME people and their families who have experienced informal exclusions. We aim to challenge and change the practice of illegal exclusion and find alternative solutions. We are actively seeking funding to take this work forward, details of which can be found on our website.



The Times Newspaper. August 28th 2018. Weak pupils expelled as heads ‘game’ exam tables.  An investigation by Paul Morgan-Bentley.

House of Commons  Education Select Committee. 2018. Forgotten children: alternative provision and the scandal of ever increasing exclusions. 5th Report of Session 2017-19. HC 342. 25th July 2018

Ofsted. 2018. Off-rolling: using data to see a fuller picture. Jason Bradbury, Deputy Director for Data and Insight, Ofsted. 26th June 2018.

Office of the Children’s Commissioner.  June 2018. Anne Longfield