One in five teachers wrongly believe 'backdoor exclusions' are allowed, study finds


More than one in five teachers and senior leaders wrongly believe they can encourage parents to remove their children from school, according to Government-commissioned research.

The practice – which is an alternative to permanent exclusion – is not allowed under Department for Education statutory guidance.

And yet, 22 per cent incorrectly believe they are permitted to encourage parents to withdraw their child and apply to another school under existing rules. 

The study, by the National Foundation for Educational Research, also reveals that some teachers (6 per cent) wrongly think they can send pupils home to “cool off” – without recording it as an exclusion.

Some (also incorrectly) believe they can encourage parents to home educate (5 per cent) and others think they can record pupils as “authorised absent” or “educated off-site” when the school had encouraged them not to come into school (4 per cent). 

The findings, from a survey of nearly 2,000 teachers and senior leaders, come amid growing concerns about schools using backdoor exclusions, or “off-rolling”, to game the system by boosting exam results and league table positions. 

Last week, Ofsted boss Amanda Spielman said she was “very concerned” about a rise in home education, which she said could be partly blamed on schools “shovelling” children back to parents.

And Education Secretary Damian Hinds is expected to announce a review into school exclusions this week, following a 12 per cent rise in the number of fixed-period exclusions across schools.

But, as the research shows, there are a number of practices taking place where children are taken out of school without being formally excluded. 

Some teachers incorrectly believe that pupils with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) can be simply sent home when a carer or teaching assistant (TA) is not available.

Justine Roberts, founder and CEO of Mumsnet, said off-rolling was a “particular issue” for parents of children with SEND, who have been encouraged to take their child out of schools. 

She told The Independent: “There are also examples of schools refusing to allow children to attend if their TA isn’t available, and of hints of expulsion or permanent exclusion. 

“Naturally for parents in this situation who are already under a lot of pressure, the realisation that a school doesn’t want or value their child is an additional worry they could do without.”

Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, said: “I am extremely worried that some schools are gaming the system by off-rolling children who may present challenges, including a high number with SEND into alternative provision or home education, in a bid to improve the school’s overall exam results.”

The study found that nearly three-quarters of school leaders said there were insufficient places for pupils with SEND who had behavioural issues in alternative provision – which is put in place for children who may not be in school because of illness, permanent exclusion or for any other reason.

She told The Independent: “It is important that headteachers are aware of the rules around exclusions and that their decisions are taken in the best interests of the child. 

“It is essential that we know how many children are falling through the gaps in the education system, and over the coming months I will be analysing the trends in exclusion and home education, including the link between exclusion, home education and SEND.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), addressed hundreds of heads on the topic of off-rolling at the union’s annual conference on Saturday. 

He said: “Ethical leadership has never been more important, because we’re seeing too many examples of where decisions are being made that aren’t in the interests of young people.

“I mean, particularly, the practice of off-rolling – taking students off a school’s roll in order to improve its performance figures.

“And I know from the conversations that I have had with many of you at our regional information conferences how appalled you are by this practice. It’s time that we got bolder in stating our principles, in calling out poor behaviour.”

Mr Barton told The Independent that he welcomed the DfE’s plans for a review into school exclusions – and he added that backdoor exclusions should also be looked at. 

Schools’ watchdog Ofsted has also welcomed a Government review into school exclusions.

A spokesperson said: “If not used properly and proportionally, exclusion disrupts children’s education and affects their future life chances.

”As HM Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman has said, it is never acceptable to exclude pupils, either formally or through pressure on parents, when the main goal is to boost school performance.”

A Department for Education spokesperson told The Independent: “Exclusions guidance specifically states that informal or unofficial exclusions – such as sending a pupil home ‘to cool off’ – are unlawful under all circumstances. It also makes clear that any exclusion of a pupil must be formally recorded.‎

“Any decision to exclude a pupil should be lawful, reasonable and fair. Our guidance outlines how exclusions should be used, and includes summaries for schools and parents on the rules of exclusions.”

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