18,000 secondary pupils go missing – in one year!Posted: November 15, 2015
Martin Johnson writes:
The Education Datalab study of mobile secondary pupils, featured in the TES on 13/11/15, contains a particularly startling statistic. Of the 74,000 pupils in England who left a secondary school before school leaving age, ‘around 18,000’ did not turn up at another school or other provision. Yes, that’s right, 18,000 pupils from a single year group disappeared during their secondary years. The researcher Becky Allen writes ‘We do not know about pupils who emigrate or, sadly, die.’ She does not estimate the likelihood that most or all of the 18,000 are in those two categories, but in the whole UK in 2012 just 340 children aged 10-14 (ie 5 year groups) died.
Many people, including Dr Allen, have heard anecdotes of schools ‘losing’ pupils who would damage their GCSE scores. She writes, ‘Apocryphal tales of parents being ‘encouraged’ to take their children off-roll and educate them at home are widespread.’ This phenomenon is of course almost impossible to research; instead Dr Allen proposes a disincentive for such behaviour in the form of a new method for scoring GCSE outcomes, by weighting the results for time-served in the school. The GCSE points for a pupil who was at school A for 9 terms before moving to school B for 6 terms would be ascribed 9/15 to A and 6/15 to B. There may be many pros and cons to that idea, but using that method would result in six schools, all academies and five of them in London, scoring at least 10% lower on GCSE than the current method.
The key point to take away from this study is not how to tweak the accountability measures to reduce the attractiveness of ‘encourage to leave’ (a term used, by the way, in a school where I taught in the early seventies when the leaving age was 15). No, the real message is that the drop-out rate from our secondary schools is 18,000 pupils a year, undoubtedly incentivised by the accountability system. These are 18,000 highly vulnerable youngsters. Do we care? More, does the government care?