If you asked any headteacher in the UK who the most important stakeholder in their school is – they would unanimously reply; the pupil. They wholeheartedly believe that the purpose of their school is to provide the best possible education for each child.
However, recent data from the government shows that many schools are encouraging pupils with less than desirable grades to seek out other schools, to avoid any poor reflection on the school’s overall grade average. These exclusions, expulsions, or children that are managed out of schools tend to escalate in the months before the GCSE and A-level exams. It’s become the norm to remove poor performing children to boost school results and is commonly referred to as “off rolling.” So contradictory to the school’s belief that they have the pupil’s best interest at heart, it would seem anything but.
The government is investigating over 300 schools with high drop-out rates towards the end of an academic year. Last year 19,000 children were removed from school league tables before they took their GCSE examinations. Clearly no headteacher wants any bad exam results to be recorded for their school, but at what cost? The current system forces our schools to be more concerned about their standing in the league tables than their duty of care for every child. The truth is that this manipulation of the system has been happening for many years without drawing any attention, but somewhere along the line things have gone out of hand.
It sadly occurs at many levels. This week a mother told me how she was asked to remove her 9-year-old son from an independent prep school because he would not have the grades required for a place in their senior school. Is it not this school’s responsibility to develop this child academically and personally? The mother was so disgusted, she immediately removed her child from the school. What parent would even want to be associated with a school that disregards the child’s wellbeing?
I’ve personally experienced this demoralising feeling through my son’s sixth form college, which boast excellent A-level results as part of their recruitment drive – hordes of teenagers were managed out of the college after their first year. My son’s whole business studies class practically disappeared. Students were encouraged to leave and those that protested were told they had to redo the year. There was no way this ‘high performing’ sixth form college was going to allow any candidates to take exams that could negatively impact their results. A school’s headteacher boasted – “best GCSE results ever this year,” yet digging deeper it was found that 1 in 4 GCSE pupils were removed before the exams were taken.
Some of the children being excluded are amongst the most vulnerable and are sent to pupil referral units. Research shows that excluded pupils are seven times more likely to have special learning needs and ten times more likely to have mental health problems. It appears that these disadvantaged children in need are being rejected and bullied out of the system, when they should ideally be supported and guided.
I am not advocating that children should never be excluded, for there are certainly cases that if a child was kept in a school it would be exclusion for the majority. If a child is continuously and severely disruptive and aggressive, their behaviour stops learning for the majority of pupils and negatively affects teacher’s mental health and job satisfaction. Schools must not be discouraged from excluding such pupils, but these exclusions should always be after all other avenues have failed. But, it is criminal when pupils get excluded or “off rolling” is used purely to boost exam results.
Why are illegal exclusions happening? It’s simple, the system is set up to reward such behaviour and punish headteachers if they produce poor results. It is literally self-preservation – a headteacher’s job is on the line. Moreover, schools receive government funding per pupil and one set of poor results or a bad Ofsted inspection can lead to less children wanting to attend the school. This can create a funding crisis for a school. The solution is to ban league tables because they are so destructive for all stakeholders. Our obsession with league tables and academic data is forcing our schools to stop educating the whole child.
When I explained our league table system in the UK to a Finnish headteacher – bearing in mind that Finland is ranked number one in the world for education, his reply was “why would you do something so destructive.”
United Education Group