//Who’s left: Three questions for the Department for Education from our work

Who’s left: Three questions for the Department for Education from our work

By |2018-06-20T12:40:14+00:0031st January 2017|School accountability|

This is one of several blogposts in Datalab’s ‘Who’s left’ series of posts. The full series can be found here.

This post was updated at 19:05 on 31 January 2017, to correct an explanation of the duty which local authorities have regarding pupils in their areas.

1. Are they satisfied that enough is being done to prevent gaming of league tables?

We believe that losing pupils is one of the ways in which secondary league tables are still susceptible to gaming.

Our research has found considerable variation in the number of pupils who leave secondary school rolls – with very large impacts on league table results in some cases.

Given this susceptibility to gaming, we would ask the Department for Education to consider whether they are satisfied that pupils moves are not being used to boost the league table results of schools in a minority of cases. 

2. Are they satisfied that pupils who leave the rolls of mainstream schools are receiving a suitable education?

Where a permanent exclusion has taken place, local authorities have responsibility for arranging full-time education for a pupil [PDF] no later than from the sixth day of their exclusion, though as we have seen, exclusions only form a small part of the picture on pupil moves.

Local authorities would previously have followed up cases of pupils leaving the roll of a mainstream school, but town hall education departments have seen enormous reductions in funding in recent years. As such, it isn’t clear whether they still have the resources needed to do so – employing the education welfare officers needed to follow these cases of pupils leaving school rolls.

As Ofsted’s work on unregistered or illegal alternative provisions last year suggests, when a pupil leaves the roll of a mainstream school in some cases they will end up at a setting that is not appropriate.

So – given the constraint on local authority resources to check that all pupils are receiving a suitable education – are the Department for Education satisfied that all pupils are?

3. Will they consider reweighting league tables – making schools accountable for every child who spent time there?

The recent education white paper raised the prospect of pupils who moved to alternative provision or are excluded counting towards a school’s performance table results [PDF].

We welcome this, but we don’t think this goes far enough.

A much larger group of pupils leave mainstream secondary schools to other destinations than are excluded each year, and outcomes for these children are poor – including a group of nearly 20,000 children who leave state education, only 6% of whom achieve five good GCSEs or equivalents.

We think that reweighting league tables so that schools were accountable for every child who had spent time with them, in proportion to the amount of time which they had spent there would be a positive step. It would remove the incentives to lose pupils who could bring down a school’s results which a minority might be tempted to take advantage of. As a result it would help ensure that pupil moves were always made in both the pupil, and the school’s, best interests.

Now read the rest of Datalab’s ‘Who’s left’ series of posts.



About the Author:

Philip is FFT Education Datalab’s external affairs manager, and a researcher on inspection, the academy system and other subjects. He leads on Datalab’s public profile, including the team’s use of visualisation. His research interests include multi-academy trusts, free schools, school finance, and Ofsted.


  1. A. Douglas 31 January, 2017 at 5:01 pm - Reply

    This “gaming” of the league tables has gone on for many years and I do not see that it will change in the near future. I work at a S.E.M.H. provision and it is amazing how many students “suddenly” require a statement or E.H.C.P. towards the end of year 9 prior to joining KS4. This also often happens when a new head takes over a school, there is an immediate rush to clear out the more challenging students. As a result of either situation we get many students joining us at the beginning or mid way through year 10 leaving a limited amount of time in which to resolve the issues these students have. There appears to be a reluctance to admit they have problems with a student in earlier years, maybe some perceive this as a failure. Either way it is the student that ultimately suffers.

  2. Fiona Nicholson 31 January, 2017 at 6:19 pm - Reply

    Hi, I beg to differ. There isn’t a statutory duty for LAs to ensure that children of compulsory school age in their area are receiving a suitable education.

  3. Ruth O'Hare 31 January, 2017 at 6:33 pm - Reply

    “Local authorities have a statutory duty to ensure that children of compulsory school age in their area are receiving a suitable education.” – No, they actually don’t. The duty falls on parents/legal guardians. Imagine how many LAs would be facing regular legal action if they really were responsible.

    • Philip Nye 31 January, 2017 at 7:15 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the comments, Fiona and Ruth. Sorry for the error – I’ve updated the text now to correct what we say about LAs’ duties.

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