While undertaking analysis of the National Pupil Database (NPD) to produce our recent post-Timpson Review blogposts (like this and this), I became intrigued by a strange phenomenon in which Year 11 pupils return to state-funded mainstream schools in the summer term having a) not been on roll anywhere in the spring, but b) been on roll in the autumn at the same school.

I should make clear that it is extremely rare that it happens. By my reckoning there were 280 cases in 2017 and 240 cases the following year. This is out of a national cohort of around 500,000 pupils.

However, there appear to be particular schools where this seems to be more than a one-off occurrence. Sixteen schools were responsible for 150 of the total of 520 cases across both years.

Why might this occur?

It’s possible that the pupils may have left and returned. This might include going overseas for a short time or perhaps taking up a placement in the independent sector, e.g. alternative provision.

But if these factors were affecting Year 11 pupils, might we also expect them to affect Year 10 pupils at the same schools?

Although there were 150 Year 11 summer returners at these schools, there were fewer than six Year 10 summer returners.

Of course, it is convenient that none of these pupils would be included in their schools’ performance tables data, particularly when their attainment tends to be very low. Thirty of the 150 were observed to have achieved an Attainment 8 school of zero in the Key Stage 4 data in NPD. Almost 40 were not even present in the data, so can be assumed to have also achieved an A8 score of zero.

Administrative errors may be to blame. Pupils were subsequently included in the performance tables data at two of the schools. Presumably they were added back during the autumn checking exercise.

There might be good reasons why this might have happened at the other schools. Do leave a comment if you have any ideas.

But what it perhaps shows is that there might well be loopholes to exploit if performance tables continue to be based just on pupils in Year 11 in the spring school census.

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