Created in collaboration with our Ofsted expert 


Inspecting off-rolling


Off-rolling has become a much more prominent topic within the education sector. The practice is regarded by some as a way of ‘gaming’ the system to improve headline data, whereas others argue that the practice reflects the fragmentation of the system in which pupils move schools for a variety of reasons. Whilst off-rolling is more common, or perceived to be more common in secondary schools, primary schools must also look carefully at their pupil movement.

As part of Ofsted’s safeguarding culture, off-rolling is coming to the forefront of inspections and is expected to be included within the September 2019 inspection framework. As part of the new inspection framework, Ofsted will look at how pupils move between schools, with a focus on which pupils are moving.


Ofsted’s definition of off-rolling


Ofsted’s official definition of off-rolling is as follows:

“The practice of removing a pupil from the school roll without a formal, permanent exclusion or by encouraging a parent to remove their child from the school roll, when the removal is primarily in the interests of the school rather than in the best interests of the pupil. Off-rolling in these circumstances is a form of ‘gaming’.

There are many reasons why a school might remove a pupil from the school roll, such as when a pupil moves house or a parent decides (without coercion from the school) to home educate their child. This is not off-rolling.

If a school removes a pupil from the roll due to a formal permanent exclusion and follows the proper processes, this is not off-rolling.”


Ofsted’s statistical model


Off-rolling is becoming a key focus in inspections and has been highlighted as a key line of enquiry for many secondary school inspections.

Between 2016 and 2017, over 19,000 pupils did not progress from Year 10 to Year 11 in the same state-funded school and half of these pupils did not appear at a different state school. As part of promoting the safeguarding culture in schools, Ofsted wants to highlight who these pupils are and where they are.

Certain groups can be particularly affected by off-rolling, such as pupils with SEND, disadvantaged pupils, pupils eligible for the pupil premium, LAC and some pupils from ethnic minority groups. Conversely, data highlights that maintained schools seem to be taking proportionally more pupils from these groups. Ultimately, Ofsted wants to investigate whether the pressures on schools to perform and improve are encouraging leaders to manage pupils by off-rolling.

To help address these issues during inspections, researchers at Ofsted have developed a statistical model to estimate what proportion of pupils might be expected to leave each school. Out of the 2,900 schools that lost pupils between Years 10 and 11, the model shows that 810 schools lost five or more pupils, and 300 whose pupil losses exceeded the expectation for two years running.

This model shows that 300 schools are being highlighted as having unusual data with regards to pupil movement. The challenge for all school leaders is to ensure they have clear information on the reasons for why any pupil has moved away from the school and can justify this reasoning.


Practices considered as off-rolling by Ofsted


When identifying off-rolling, Ofsted would look carefully at how pupils move from school to school, particularly looking at any trends. Inspectors would ask key questions regarding the pupils that are leaving the school and the reasons for this – school leaders would be expected to highlight the pupils that have moved and why. Schools are expected to have this information to hand during inspections.

Particular attention would be given to pupils that are home educated as this can be a rare circumstance – inspectors will look in detail about why these pupils are educated at home.

If certain pupil groups, such as those with SEND, disadvantaged pupils or ethnic minority groups, are more likely to move and the school does not have a coherent justification for this, it is likely that inspectors will consider this as off-rolling.


The penalties for off-rolling


Ofsted will act swiftly and decisively where they identify cases of off-rolling.

The penalties for off-rolling will be significant. Ultimately, the school is failing to provide pupils with an acceptable standard of education and Ofsted may judge the school as ‘requiring special measures’ or that the school is not meeting the statutory safeguarding procedures, which would also result in a special measures judgement.


What schools should do


Many schools experience high levels of pupil mobility for a variety of reasons – inner city schools particularly experience high mobility. As part of the school’s safeguarding culture, schools should ensure that they firstly adhere to the children missing in education protocols. The most vulnerable pupils need to be supported by schools, and leaders need to highlight how they do this.  

School leaders need to have detailed records documenting any pupil movement and why they moved on from the school – they must highlight that these pupils are closely tracked and display that the school has a close relationship with the school the pupil moved to.




Ofsted (2018) ‘School inspection update: special edition’