Key findings from EPI’s report on unexplained pupil moves
by Abi Angus
30th October 2019
This month the Education Policy Institute released a detailed report about ‘unexplained pupil exits’ from schools in England, highlighting the 10.1% of students who leave their school without the paper trail or oversight that comes with either a permanent exclusion or a family decision to move school. In this blog we look specifically at which pupils are affected, providing a summary of the key findings around the characteristics of pupils who leave a school for unexplained reasons.
The research uses an adapted version of the methodology used in EPI’s April report in order to show the scale of the issue more accurately. ‘Unexplained exits’ are defined as “exits from a school to either another school, alternative provision or an unknown destination, where those exits do not appear to be driven by families or a formal exclusion”. It is likely that many of these exits are driven by ‘off-rolling’ or similar practices where students are ‘pushed out’ due to their behaviour or predicted attainment. The data in this report tracks pupils within the cohort who reached year 11 in 2017.
One in ten pupils experienced an unexplained exit at some point between starting secondary school in September 2012 and leaving in the summer of 2017. However, marginalised young people were nearly 50% more likely to experience these exits; three quarters of the pupils who experienced an unexplained move had a characteristic that already meant that they were vulnerable in some way.
Learners who are already identified as marginalised in other ways are disproportionately affected
- Young people who had been permanently excluded during their time at school were almost four times more likely to also experience an unexplained exit compared to the overall cohort of students.
- A fifth of students who had been identified as a ‘child in need’ during their time in school experienced an unexplained exit.
- A quarter of pupils who had received fixed period exclusions or who were persistently absent left their school before the end of year 11.
- One in seven of young people who had come to school with low prior attainment also experienced an unexplained exit.
Other students identified by the research as being more likely to experience an unexplained exit from school were:
- Young people either currently, or formerly, in care;
- Students with Social, Emotional or Mental Health (SEMH) difficulties;
- Pupils who were eligible for free school meals;
- Students with identified Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND);
- Students from black ethnic backgrounds;
We are ‘losing’ our most vulnerable young people
Worryingly, half of all unexplained exits are to ‘unknown destinations’. For 51.9% of pupils who left their original school, no place of education was identified in the term after leaving.
For some pupils, an unexplained exit may be used to provide that student with a place in Alternative Provision (AP), hoping that the extra support available in these settings will facilitate a transition back to mainstream school. However, out of the young people who experienced an unexplained exit and were placed into AP, only 10.1% were recorded as being back in mainstream education in year 11. Just 4.4% of all pupils who left their school for an unknown reason were back in their original school by the end of year 11, suggesting that for most students, these exits are permanent.
Less than 5% of all pupils who left their school for an unknown reason were back in their original school by the end of year 11, suggesting that for most students, these exits are permanent Click To Tweet
When schools work with APs to support their pupils in returning, going back to school can be a positive move. Mills and Thompson’s research on effective AP identifies factors that make reintegration successful: academic continuity, parental support, a key worker, and specialist support.
The diagram below from Mills and Thompson’s report shows systems used by schools to support pupils returning after spending time in AP.
Managed moves account for some exits
Some pupils were placed into other schools using ‘managed moves’, which accounted for around 12.8% of all the unexplained exits and it could be argued that, as we know these were managed moves into other schools, they are in fact ‘explained’.
EPI addresses this, writing that while managed moves are tracked, this data is not recorded and monitored nationally in the same way as permanent exclusions. This can lead to less transparency. Managed moves require parental consent, however EPI’s research, and my own experience supporting families, found that many families feel coerced into agreeing to a move in order to avoid their child being excluded permanently.
We cannot assume all managed moves are a result of coercion, however we also cannot assume that all managed moves are in the best interest of the child. Therefore, EPI include these figures in the research, although they do not make up a particularly sizeable percentage of all the identified unexplained exits.We cannot assume all managed moves are a result of coercion, however we also cannot assume that all managed moves are in the best interest of the child Click To Tweet
Where are these young people going?
Four in ten students did not return to a state-funded school by year 11 after an unexplained exit. So where are these young people going and how can we ensure that they are receiving the education they need in order to prepare for adulthood?
They could be home schooled, in unregistered provision or within an independent school, however the DfE doesn’t collect data allowing us to track these students.
For families that do not have the money to pay for education, leaving state-funded schooling is a risk. While some settings will be right for these young people, concerns have been raised about the quality and safety of some unregistered education providers.If we don’t know where these young people are, how can we ensure that any support needs are identified or met? Click To Tweet
Poor data limits our ability to track pupils and further increases the already considerable risks they face. If we don’t know where these young people are, how can we ensure that any support needs are identified or met?
It is deeply worrying that for many of these young people, the majority of whom face marginalisation due to their identity or situation, an unexplained exit allows them to slip through the net.
Unexplained exits allow this to happen to students far too easily, without the original school being held to account for what impact this has on their future.We are 'losing' our most vulnerable young people @abi_angus on @EduPolicyInst's important research. Click To Tweet