Both unions and teachers have revealed that thousands of children with special educational needs and disabilities are dropping out of education after being “off-rolled” – removed from a school’s roll.
In 2017 official figures indicated that almost 20,000 GCSE students had been off-rolled and almost a third of those had special educational needs.
Lorraine Dormand, Headteacher at The National Autistic Society’s Robert Ogden School, said that the school is “snowed under” with referrals for children who have been informally and formally excluded from schools.
“It’s deeply concerning and is of course very distressing for the children and their families. We are then left to pick up the pieces.
“We are seeing children who have been out of school for years, and the impact can be devastating. It can rob them of their self-confidence.
“They lose faith in the education system, and themselves. As a result of that, and a lack of understanding, too many children end up excluded or off-rolled.”
According to the UK’s teaching union, National Education Union (NEU), the true scale of the problem is much higher.
“It is a terrible thing and it should not happen,” says Dr Mary Bousted, joint General Secretary of the NEU.
“This is happening because of a toxic mix of league tables, inspection regimes and lack of funding. The majority of schools do their best. The problem is, some don’t.
“I don’t condone it. But I’m not surprised by it.”
Nearly 4,500 pupils with autism were excluded from school in 2015/16; this figure has increased by 60 per cent since 2011.
Inspectors have admitted that they can’t always trace what has happened to students that have been off-rolled.
“It is the case that sometimes we don’t know where those pupils go; that is something that is concerning to us,” says Daniel Owen, Ofsted Inspector.
“In some cases, we suspect that school leaders are coercing parents to remove pupils or making decisions that are not in the best interests of the pupils,” he added.
A spokesperson from the Department for Education said that informal unofficial exclusions were “unlawful and unacceptable.”