'It sickens me' - Mum's anger after autistic son, 10, forced out of Suffolk school
PUBLISHED: 12:12 15 October 2019 | UPDATED: 12:12 15 October 2019
Nearly 1,000 Suffolk youngsters left school in unexplained circumstances new data has shown, prompting fresh fears that schools are forcing under-performing children out.
Off-rolling is an illegal practice where schools deliberately encourage parents to withdraw their child from school, either because they bring a school's overall results down or are too disruptive.
Suffolk County Council revealed it had eight confirmed instances a couple of years ago but last week claimed there were "no current cases of off-rolling".
But data published by the Education Policy Institute found 996 children left Suffolk schools in unexplained circumstances in 2017 - a 17.5% increase on 2014.
Some of those were where a child left a school and went to another - including instances where they went to a high-rated school - and some cases where a child dropped out of traditional schooling entirely.
In addition, 466 youngsters in Suffolk left school in a family-driven move, such as moving house, migrating or securing a special school place.
Nearly 3,900 youngsters across Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex combined left schools in unexplained circumstances, according to the data.
Case study: Off-rolling gives wrong message
One parent who experienced first hand the problem of off-rolling at a Suffolk primary school has demanded that more is done to expose off-rolling schools.
The parent, who cannot be named, faced an uphill struggle with her autistic son, now 10, when trying to get suitable provision.
She said the school was unable to meet his needs, despite him having an education health and care plan.
"Instead of supporting me to get a specialist place they were more interested in getting him off their school roll because he wasn't meeting any of their age-related criteria," she said.
"It's just despicable - it sickens me to my stomach that they would be so underhand and so focused on that.
"It sickens me that people were so uncaring in one of the most caring and vital professions for shaping our childrens' futures.
"This is the message educators are giving - that you are not wanted for who you are."
'Problem greater than first feared'
Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott said: "For some time, there have been warnings about off-rolling in Suffolk, but this report suggests that the problem may be even greater than first feared.
"Overwhelmingly, the majority of unexplained exits are experienced by vulnerable pupils - children from poorer backgrounds, children in care, children with mental health and special educational needs.
"It is time that the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council started tackling this issue head on. Do they even know the full extent of the problem? What are they proactively doing to protect vulnerable children from off-rolling?
"It is obvious there needs to be far better monitoring and transparency - it is unacceptable that the council refuses to name the schools which illegally pressured parents into removing their children.
"The schools and trusts engaging in this practice must be publicly held to account, whilst inclusivity should be rewarded and promoted through sustainable funding formulas and better school performance measures."
A spokesman from Suffolk County Council said: "Suffolk County Council challenges off-rolling in any circumstance that leads to a child not having appropriate provision, we act when information comes to us that identifies pupils being removed from school rolls inappropriately."
Parent network 'deeply concerned'
Campaigners at the Suffolk Parent Carer Network (SPCN) expressed their "deep concerns" about the practice.
"We know from the feedback that we receive from parents and carer that the practice of off-rolling continues to take place for some children and young people with special educational needs in Suffolk," a spokeswoman said.
"SPCN is deeply concerned that the practice appears to be increasing leaving vulnerable children without their needs being met in an appropriate educational setting.
"We would encourage parents and carers to report any concerns to us via our email firstname.lastname@example.org or via our online survey which is open until 9th November 2019."