One-fifth of an academy’s pupils “disappear” before GCSEs

An academy run by the Harris Federation in Croydon saw more than one-fifth of its pupils “disappear” before it was time for them to take their GCSEs.

According to a report in yesterday’s Guardian newspaper, there was a fall of 22 per cent of Harris Academy South Norwood’s school roll from Year 7 until the time that year group got to sit its GCSEs last year. Further, the year group’s roll fell from 197 in January 2012 to just 169 a year later, their GCSE year, according to a Freedom of Information request.

Pupils at Harris Academy South Norwood sitting their public exams: but what happened to so many of their "disappeared" year group?

Pupils at Harris Academy South Norwood sitting their public exams: but what happened to so many of their “disappeared” year group?

The Harris Academy South Norwood is one of a number of academies in Croydon which continue to deliver what even the greatest optimist might describe as merely “adequate” results, for reasons which our education correspondent Gene Brodie has explained in the past.

Academies, often utilising public property and assets, are run by private organisations, outside of local authority control, while receiving funding directly from the Department for Education. The policy was introduced under the last Labour government, but has been ratcheted up under the present education secretary, Michael Gove.

The Department for Education today published the 2013 GCSE performance tables: there is not a single Croydon state school, nor any of the borough’s much-vaunted academies, in the top 200 performing schools in England and Wales; in neighbouring Sutton, there are six state schools in the national top 200.

It is suspected, although there is no evidence to prove it is the case in Harris South Norwood, that some schools deliberately “off-load” some of their lesser achieving pupils ahead of public examinations, in order to improve their league table position. David Wolfe, a lawyer who has worked with parents who feel their children have been unfairly treated by schools, told the newspaper that fall in school rolls “do not surprise me in the slightest”.

Wolfe says that some schools do sometimes put pressure on parents to get their children to leave. “There is an incentive for schools, in that their results are likely to look better. Whether the year groups are reducing for this reason, though, is another question,” Wolfe told The Guardian.

The practice, according to one educationalist, is “… an example of the perverse incentives created by the league tables”, where a school’s performance in the tables has become more important that the education it delivers to its pupils.

Overall, according to The Guardian, six Harris academies feature in the list of the 50 schools with the largest drop in pupil numbers for the 2013 GCSE year group between 2010 and 2013, with all shrinking in size by at least 10 per cent. The Oasis academy group has three schools in the top 50 largest reductions on this measure, though none of these schools are Oasis academies in Croydon.

The Guardian uncovered figures that raise questions about changes in pupil rolls at many  schools. During 2012, about 1,730 secondaries lost a combined 7,500 pupils from the academic year group that would go on to complete its GCSEs in summer 2013. With the other 1,000 mainstream secondary schools gaining only 2,000 pupils, that means 5,500 pupils are in some way unaccounted for.

The newspaper used official DfE data on school rolls which is compiled each January. The data is only available for state schools and academies. The DfE does not monitor independent schools in the same way.

“The January census data is particularly crucial for schools in relation to pupils who turn 16 during the academic year,” the newspaper reports, “as the number recorded as on the roll at this time is the number whose results are counted against the school in league tables.”

Harris Academy South Norwood – the former Stanley Tech – was one of only four schools in the whole country where its school roll was 20 per cent or more smaller in 2013 than in 2010.

A spokesperson for the Harris Federation was quoted by The Guardian as saying: “Everyone knows and accepts that London is a particularly turbulent part of the country and that many of its schools have to deal with this on a year-by-year basis. When families move away from an area we always do our best to make sure their child can remain in school, but this is not always possible.”

The DfE told the newspaper: “Under no circumstances should a school remove a pupil from its roll on the basis of their academic potential or results. All schools must follow clear regulations when removing a pupil from their roll.”


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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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2 Responses to One-fifth of an academy’s pupils “disappear” before GCSEs

  1. ndavies144 says:

    “Everyone knows and accepts that London is a particularly turbulent part of the country and that many of its schools have to deal with this on a year-by-year basis. When families move away from an area we always do our best to make sure their child can remain in school, but this is not always possible.”

    I see. Are we then to take it that families are more likely move out of the area when their kids are in their GCSE year? Or do rolls fall similarly for all years? I would have thought that as everyone knows and accepts that this is a general thing in London you’d get a similar number of families moving into the area and the overall numbers would be stable. Or am I missing something?

  2. davidcallam says:

    More sloppy statistics collected – or not – on our behalf by central government.
    Do we trust the schools to provide the figures themselves?
    Oh for a properly financed audit department and unnotified inspections.

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