‘Alarming’ number of year 10 children taken off school rolls in Norfolk and Suffolk
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More than 2,000 year 10 pupils 'disappeared' from their school registers in the East of England over a 12-month period.
Figures compiled by Ofsted show that between January 2016 and January 2017 some 2,100 pupils 'did not progress' from year 10 to year 11 – meaning they were taken off the roll at their school at a crucial point in their education.
The figures came as the education watchdog released its annual review, and renewed a pledge to be a 'force for improvement' for the country's young people.
Paul Brooker, Ofsted's regional director for the East of England, said some of pupils may have fallen victim to efforts by their school to remove them for reasons that were not in the pupil's best interests, for example to prevent 'damage' to the school's performance figures – a practice known as off-rolling.
'It is quite an alarming figure especially since we know that a disproportionate number of them have special needs or come from a disadvantaged background, so that shows that the best provision is not being made for some of our most vulnerable pupils,' he said.
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'Standards are really important but not at the expense of the welfare of your pupils.'
In terms of pupils exclusions, Norfolk is behind its regional neighbours. In total there were 4,191 fixed period exclusions in the year (around nine per 100 pupils), with 4.4pc of the county's pupils receiving at least one exclusion in the period.
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In Suffolk the rate was between six and seven exclusions per 100 pupils.
Mr Brooker is concerned that pupils' life chances could be 'jeopardised' by dropping out of mainstream education.
He said exclusions, along with special educational needs and disabilities provision in schools, would be a 'real focus' for Ofsted going forward.
Inspections of local authority services for children with special educational needs and disabilities, introduced by Ofsted in 2016, have raised concerns about the provision offered by some authorities. Two of the five inspected so far in the East of England - including Suffolk – required to produce a 'written statement of action' for improvement.
Mr Brooker said: 'If pupils are being excluded and happen to have special educational needs or disabilities that is worrying as it may suggest that the school is not meeting their needs. It is something we need to look at very closely.'
How are Norfolk and Suffolk's schools actually doing?
In Norfolk the number of secondary schools judged to be good or outstanding jumped by six percentage points to 79pc in the year to August 31 2018. In Suffolk the number rose by two percentage points to 73pc.
The number of primary schools judged good or outstanding in Norfolk rose by 1pc in the same period to 84pc, with the number in Suffolk static at 80pc.
In the region as a whole, 85pc of primary schools and 81pc of secondary schools are now judged as good or outstanding while 74pc of further education providers in the region were judged good or outstanding by August 31 2018.
The review also took provisional GCSE results into account – in Norfolk 39pc of pupils achieved a grade 5 or higher in English and maths, compared with 41pc in Suffolk.
But both counties were below the regional average for the proportion of pupils reaching expected standards in reading, writing and maths in key stage two – 59pc in Norfolk and 60pc in Suffolk compared with 62pc in the East of England as a whole.
Mr Brooker said there had been a 'general increase in standards' in Norfolk and Suffolk's schools in the past five years – but that there was 'too much variability' in provision depending on where children lived and 'disparity' in the performance of primary and secondary schools.
'The truth is that teachers and school leaders have got to raise their expectations of what key stage two pupils can achieve,' he said.
'The standards that you see in year five and six are really quite remarkable compared with four or five years ago. By 16, youngsters are doing quite well so there is no reason why primaries should be anything but at or above the national figure.'
He speculated that the larger proportion of smaller rural schools in Norfolk and Suffolk compared with other areas could pull the figures down. 'They have got to try and keep all the balls in the air – it is harder than a large primary with teachers in charge of maths and English. It is harder when you have a lot of small rural primaries, so all the more reason for people to collaborate and share best practice.'