The academy trusts whose GCSE students keep disappearing

Some of England’s most influential academy chains are facing fresh questions over the number of children disappearing from their classrooms in the run-up to GCSEs, following a new statistical analysis of official figures. The Guardian reports. 

The same four academy chains have the highest numbers of 15- 16-year-olds leaving their schools in both of the last two academic years. In some cases, two pupils are disappearing from the rolls for every class of 30. Some local authorities are also approaching these figures for dropouts.

The head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, is among those voicing concern. The inspectorate has yet to find a way to differentiate offrolling from cases where schools have acted in the best interests of children, but it has started to gather its own data.

Education Guardian looked at England’s 50 largest academy trusts and 50 largest local education authorities, and compared the number of pupils in year 11 in 2017-18 – the students counted when GCSE results are published – to the number in year 10, a year earlier.

The findings reveal a consistent pattern in some chains of year groups shrinking substantially. The same four trusts fill the top four places in our table (below) on 2017-18 data and on data for 2016-17. The trend of disappearing pupils appears to be happening at a higher rate in the academies sector.

Out of the 50 biggest academy chains, the four that lost the most pupils were Delta Academies Trust, based in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, where there were 124 fewer pupils in January 2018 in year 11 than in January 2017 (year 10). That is a net reduction in pupil numbers of 6.98%, or two children in every class of 30. Second came Aldridge Education, based in central London, where there were 52 fewer pupils year-on-year, or 6.92% of the cohort; third was the Norwich-based Inspiration Trust, with 40 fewer pupils, a loss of 5.38%; fourth was the Harris Federation, based in south London, where numbers of pupils fell by 5.14%.

Harris, one of England’s largest academy chains, has had the highest net loss of pupils of any chain in England taking the past two years together. Its 2017 year 10 roll of 3,228 young people shrank by 166 children to 3,062 in 2018. The league tables for the previous year show Harris with the highest loss of students in a GCSE cohort, at 7.23%; next came Delta (6.97% reduction); Aldridge (5.83%) and Inspiration (5.40%).

Asked about its statistics, Delta Academy Trust produced data on what kinds of institutions its pupils were departing to. Alternative provision was the most frequent destination, used by just over 2% of its 2017 and 2018 GCSE leavers.The trust says: “Our academies serve some of the most disadvantaged areas of a disadvantaged region. Any move to alternative provision involves a stringent process of referral … we work with parents throughout this process and adhere to the principle that the provision must be in the best interests of the child.”

Read about more findings and comparisons The academy trusts whose GCSE students keep disappearing

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