Helen Beardmore, Education Delivery Manager, Edge

As the annual furore of GCSEs died down last week (28 Aug), the Times led with a front page splash on an increasingly concerning and complex matter which is becoming part of the annual narrative around exams.

Etymologically, the term ‘off-rolling’ feels like a new addition to the canon of educational terminology, but clearly the alleged practice suggested by the data presented by the Times, is recognised sufficiently throughout the sector to warrant the creation of a new verb.

The notion that a school might expel less able students to enhance exam results and maintain or improve its position in the league tables, is certainly unpalatable, but evidence suggests it is happening and increasingly so.

The number of pupils ‘disappearing’ during GCSEs has risen by a third this year. Ofsted has identified 300 schools with high dropout rates and chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, says it ‘absolutely could get worse’.

In response to the allegations that some schools are removing pupils from their registers so that their results do not negatively affect the school in league tables, a Department for Education spokesperson said:

Informal or unofficial exclusions are unlawful and we wrote to schools last year to remind them of the rules on exclusions. Any school ‘off rolling’ on the basis of academic results is quite simply breaking the law.

Any decision to exclude a pupil should be reasonable and fair, and permanent exclusion should only ever be used as a last resort. Our statutory guidance for schools states that they must consider the underlying causes of poor behaviour before excluding a pupil.

While we know that there has been an increase in exclusions there are still fewer than the peak ten years ago. We have launched an externally led review to look at how exclusions are used and why certain groups are disproportionally affected.

The practice of excluding pupils based on academic results is not only unacceptable, but also unlawful. Exclusions should only ever be used as a last resort to combat poor behaviour.

However it is important to note that not every child who disappears from a school’s register has been excluded – some may have moved away or entered independent education.

Of the 30,000 teenagers who have not had GCSE results recorded in league tables since 2015, despite being on their school’s roll a year before, some may have been sent to a pupil referral unit (PRU).

Alarmingly, the Times reports that of the 1,500 children aged 10 and under taught in exclusion units, a significant number are five-year-olds. Or an alternative explanation may be that the teenagers may have dropped out of the system due to relocation, or some may have indeed voted with ‘their feet’ and simply chosen not to attend school or turn up for their final exams.

Are children and young people increasingly displaying behaviour which warrants exclusion from school? Or have we just become more sophisticated at tracking them and analysing the data available?

At the risk of seeming nostalgic for a golden age that never was, during my time as a teacher, expelling a pupil was not a common occurrence, it was very much a last resort.

In my experience schools do everything possible to support all learners in mainstream education, working with multiple agencies as necessary, to support the individual, and often extending this support to their guardian(s) too.

In one of the schools I taught in we did on occasion ‘receive’ some students who transferred to us in search of a fresh start, and for the majority this worked and had a positive impact on them. They were able to leave their reputations behind and refocus themselves with the help of the school, teachers and support staff.

I think there are two aspects to the problem:

1. Accountability and Progress 8

In July the Education Committee examined the issue and in their report "Forgotten children: alternative provision and the scandal of ever increasing exclusions", said that ‘accountability and Progress 8 was a major factor.’

Certainly the pressures of performance measures mean GCSE grades are ascribed a greater value than ever before.

If we judge schools almost entirely by exam results, then we should expect an exam-factory culture and recognise that such a culture will inevitably let some students down.

2. Narrowing of the curriculum

Secondly, the national curriculum is increasingly becoming narrower with a purely academic focus and leading to a knowledge based, rote-learning culture. The scramble to increase EBacc uptake and deliver the requisite grades, means subjects such as music, art, drama and design and technology are being driven off the time table to make room for more maths, English and science.

Students who struggle with these core subjects often find themselves in a constant cycle of more maths, more English, and are subject to so much intervention to get their grades up that their motivation and willingness to learn are detrimentally affected. In the worst case scenario their behaviour may also deteriorate as they are frustrated and have little sense of achievement.

Sadly, it’s not just creative and technical subjects which are being dropped. Analysis by TES found that between 2011 and 2017, the number of hours for PE and PHSE have been reduced dramatically, by 21 per cent and 47 per cent respectively at key stage 4.

So if you’re creative or have a talent for music or enjoy problem solving or building things, but your school day is filled with learning facts and knowledge and being constantly tested, chances are you are going to become disengaged from education pretty quickly.

Extra-curricular opportunities

Furthermore, youngsters from more deprived backgrounds are less likely to have access to extra-curricular activities like their better off peers or the cultural capital or the means to take advantage of opportunities which may be afforded to them.

At Edge we believe all children and young people should have access to a coherent and holistic education, not only rich in subject knowledge, but developing an inquiring, creative mind set and equipping them with the resilience, team-working and communication skills.

School is a place where youngsters should be inspired, develop a love of subjects that interest them, and in doing so develop the skills and attributes which are essential to become life-long learners, have successful future careers and ultimately positive contributors to UK PLC.

From Leonardo di Vinci to Steve Jobs to Einstein, some of humanity’s greatest inventors, creatives and problem-solvers have not followed the traditional routes at the time and struggled to find their place in the world.

All children and young people are entitled to the education and support they need to find their talent and fulfil their potential. Our increasingly restrictive system is in danger of alienating more and more youngsters who don’t ‘fit’ or are disengaged by our archaic curriculum.

Simply disenfranchising those whose capabilities can’t be measured by our antediluvian exam system, shows a lack of vision only matched by the blind conviction that the best way to thrive in our global digital economy, is to possess a clutch of 9 grade GCSEs.

We urgently need to reconsider what we want our education system to achieve and whether it is fit for purpose.

Surely, all our young people have the right to leave school having been given the opportunity to make the most of their talents, fulfilling their potential.

Helen Beardmore, Education Delivery Manager, Edge

About the Author: Helen has had a varied career in education since graduating with a Geography degree from University College of Wales Aberystwyth. Helen went on to complete her PGCE at Sheffield University before teaching in Rotherham and Nottingham for 15 years. Whilst in Nottingham Helen started to diversify teaching Applied Leisure and Tourism and, Business and as a result of which became a Lead Practitioner for the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) specialising and sharing best practice in curriculum development and resources.

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page