Thousands of children appear to be missing from school registers after new research revealed a “sharp increase” in the number being taken out of state schools and failing to sit their GCSEs.
Analysis by the FFT Education Datalab shows more than 22,000 pupils have been “off-rolled” in the last year, which sees children removed from the official education system not necessarily via formal exclusion measures.
The report uncovered a 10% rise in the number of children who had left mainstream secondary schools in England before the end of year 11 in 2017, compared to the previous three years.
In 2016, 2015 and 2014 about 20,000 pupils left state education.
While many of those pupils may have moved away from England, been home-schooled or enrolled at a private school, the location of up to 7,700 children could not be identified, according to the data.
Philip Nye and Dave Thomson, authors of the report, 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.
“School league tables, broadly speaking, only measure those who remain on the school roll in January of year 11, giving schools a perverse incentive to lose pupils who would bring results down.”
But they added that “only a small minority” of headteachers would have been inclined to behave in such a way.
Children and young adults are required by law in England to stay in full-time education or training until the they are 18.
About 553,000 pupils reached the end of their secondary education in 2017, with about 516,000 doing so in a mainstream school.
Others will have finished year 11 elsewhere in the state school system, such as in university technical colleges and special schools.
The report posed a number of questions to the Department for Education about the off-rolling system facing thousands of pupils across England.
It stated: “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 spokesperson for the government department 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.”