Off-rolling: using data to see a fuller picture

Over the last few months, we’ve been analysing data on pupils who leave their state-funded secondary school before the end of key stage 4. We’re concerned about potential ‘off-rolling’ of pupils where schools may be encouraging pupils to move, and want to better understand the schools and pupils that are affected. How might the context of the school affect the number and proportion of pupils that leave? And what is an ‘exceptional’ level of movement?

We used pupil-level data from the Department for Education’s school census and tracked pupils that were in year 10 in 2016, and would be expected to be in year 11 of the same school in 2017. Over 19,000 pupils did not progress from year 10 to year 11 in the same state-funded secondary school. This may be only 4% of all year 10 pupils, but it can be very disruptive for the pupils and families involved, particularly at such an important time in the pupils’ education. Of course, we recognise that there are a wide range of circumstances that may lead to a child leaving one setting and moving to another.

Many of these 19,000 pupils moved to another state-funded school, but around half did not reappear in the census of a different state-funded school. We recognise that some of these pupils may have moved to an independent school (including special schools and alternative provision), or become home-schooled. Some may have, however, ended up in an unregistered school, or dropped out of education entirely. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to know the full story of where pupils went to, and why, from the school census data alone.

Unsurprisingly not all children are equally likely to be affected. Children with special educational needs, children eligible for free school meals, children looked after, and some minority ethnic groups are all more likely to leave their school.

For example, around 30% of pupils who leave their school between years 10 and 11 have special educational needs, against 13% of all pupils. Where these pupils go to is unclear for half of these pupils, which could be a sign that a large proportion are being home-schooled. More than a quarter of all the pupils that leave their school go to state-funded alternative provision/pupil referral units, but only a small proportion move to a state-funded special school.

The incidence of this possible ‘off-rolling’ is not evenly spread across the sector. A higher proportion of schools in London are seeing movement of pupils compared to other areas of the country. Academies, particularly those in some multi-academy trusts, appear to be losing proportionately more pupils than local authority schools. Conversely, local authority schools seem to be taking on proportionately more pupils. Are these differences partly due to the context of the schools, and the types of pupils they cater for? Or is it also the policies of particular schools?

To investigate this further, we’ve looked closely at how the characteristics of the pupils may influence how many pupils leave the school, and have developed a statistical model to estimate what proportion of pupils we might expect to leave each school. This takes into account the characteristics of the pupils, such as the percentage of pupils on free school meals, the proportion of pupils with special educational needs, gender, and prior attainment (key stage 2).

The model helps us to see where ‘exceptional’ levels of pupils have moved, and where this has been a consistent pattern in each of the last two years. Out of 2,900 schools that lost some pupils between years 10 and 11, the model highlights 300 schools with particularly high levels of “off-rolling”. While this might sometimes be attributed to ordinary factors such as several family moves, this kind of analysis helps us focus our attention at inspection.

Pupil movements between year 10 in 2016 and year 11 in 2017

This model will be used to inform our discussions with local authorities and multi-academy trusts, and to ask questions in school inspections.

We’ve also been discussing these issues with FFT Education Datalab. They’ve been looking at how performance data, such as Progress 8, is impacted by pupils leaving the school before they sit their GCSEs. We plan to collaborate further with them in the near future.

It’s not possible to know from the data available the reasons why so many pupils are leaving a school, and whether those moves are in the best interests of the pupils. But the data gives a starting point to have these important conversations with the sector, and to better understand this issue.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @JRbradbury

For data queries regarding this blog please email


  1. Comment by Adam Gilbert posted on

    Name the schools?

  2. Comment by laurac posted on

    Great to see this issue being investigated.
    Although we were not directly affected, my daughter was very upset when a number of her friends were forced to leave by her school, who were obviously more concerned about their ‘rankings’ in league tables than their responsibility for their pupils’ welfare.
    All the more sickening when the school boasts of their exam success later! only the insiders know the cost and reality of those statistics.
    Off course government must also take their responsibility, in creating such a system.

  3. Comment by Sarah. Maddrell posted on

    Having a school refuser myself who has special educational needs pupils are being pushed out of the school system by threats of fines and prison so many vulnerable young people are being forced to be deregistered by parents who are just being labelled as bad parents and fined the school system is not fit for my daughter but I am forced by law to make her go

  4. Comment by Linda Rundle posted on

    The reason may be linked to the fact that in the past and present Local Authorities still have the power to inspect registers. However staffing cuts mean that not all LA's have the capacity to do that. No one other than Ofsted Inspectors have the right to inspect Academy registers and to be fair not all inspectors know what they are looking at/ for, not do they have the time. Some civil servants ( and ministers ) in the DfE think Ofsted do inspect registers despite being told otherwise. So either the DfE appoint experienced people to look at all registers or there is a heavy penalty for schools who off roll illegally.

  5. Comment by Elisabeth W posted on

    Never heard of 'off rolling' until it happened to us. And yes it was an academy.

  6. Comment by Pesky SEND Parent posted on

    Very painful for the (usually) SEND pupils. Where do they go? Most are badly scarred by the process, suffer immense harm and go on to develop serious mental health conditions. The parents are forced, under threat of prosecution, to keep sending their children into these toxic and damaging situations. The only way out is to deregister the student. No longer burdened with co-ordinating and funding "reasonable accommodations" the govt, the LAs and the schools save £££.
    For as long as the SEND system is not properly regulated off-rolling and other harm to vulnerable children and YP will go on.
    One will find the SEND needs will have been under-proved in the years leading up to Y10. That will be because SEND funding is not ring-fenced, so the schools use it to top-up their general budgets. By Y9 into Y10, the students are no longer able to access the curriculum.
    By Y10, the school will have earned nicely from that pupil's top-up funding, and will need to force the pupil off the register to protect league tables and progress 8 scores.
    Until schools are held fully accountable for SEND provision, and the CoP directives changed from "should" into "must", this will continue.
    Tribunals lack powers and HTs know the worst outcome for them will be a forced apology to the pupil, told to improve teacher training and maybe to put the SEND provision in place. Until real penalties are slapped on the schools, and compensation awarded to pupils and families it will continue.
    Need to introduce separate SEND inspections, every two years, consulting with EVERY parent who's child is on the SEND register (not just the ones the senco suggests!). Give schools a rating for their SEND provision, and enforce that it be displayed on the school website alongside the latest "general" Ofsted ratings.
    This govt knows very well off-rolling and worse is happening for these vulnerable children every day. The govt also knows why it is happening. Cutting legal aid helps keep it quiet.

  7. Comment by sad teacher posted on

    Some may go to placements more able to meet needs. Many will be sent out to improve data - I wonder if some even know that they have gone? I have heard that they can go off for a data capture and then magically return without knowing they did this! Not sure if this is possible?
    For others where attendance is an issue parents can be told that if they can't get them in then the courts are waiting and this will lead to home ed.

    Sadly though I feel outcomes/data and progress 8 are what counts 'for the good of all'. So, for some, the thought of giving up on the few for the good of the many means they can sleep at night?

    • Replies to sad teacher>

      Comment by External relations team posted on

      Hi, Thank you for your observations about off-rolling. Schools must do right for all pupils and in doing so must act in accordance with the law. Removing pupils unlawfully is not acceptable and that is why Ofsted is concerned to draw attention to this matter.


Leave a comment

We only ask for your email address so we know you're a real person