Off-rolling adding to pressure on local children’s services

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Cuts to school budgets, the practice of “off-rolling” problem students, along with a decade of huge policy change within education, are among the reasons why local authority children’s services are struggling to cope with demand.

An estimated 2.4 million initial contacts were made to children’s social care in 2017/18 – a 78 per cent increase from 2007/8.

And the number of children who are subject to child protection plans has increased by 87 per cent in the last decade – with rises in cases of neglect and emotional abuse.

The latest report from the on-going Safeguarding Pressures research includes information from 140 local authorities across England, covering 11.3 million children – or 95 per cent of the under-18 population.

It also reveals that referrals to children’s services are up by 22 per cent across the same 10-year period, with schools making 18.2 per cent of referrals in 2017/18.

An estimated 644,430 Child in Need assessments were completed in 2017/18 and more than 170,000 of these included domestic abuse as a factor. Indeed, abuse and neglect continue to be the main reason for referrals and for children becoming looked after.

Twice as many children became subjects of a child protection plan due to neglect in 2017/18 compared to 10 years ago and emotional abuse “continues to increase”.

The report also finds that “significantly more” 16 to 17-year-olds are now subject of a child protection plan – up from 0.5 per cent of all child protection plans in 2007/8, to around four per cent today.

Overall, around 75,500 children were in care in 2017/18 – an increase of 24 per cent in 10 years.

The findings have been published by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), which has pointed to huge funding pressures in the system resulting from a 50 per cent reduction in local authority budgets since 2010 (citing National Audit Office figures).

The ADCS also warns that reductions in other public agencies, notably the police, health and education services, as well as welfare reforms, are hitting children’s services. It says local authorities will have to overspend budgets if they are to meet demand in 2018/19.

The report says there is “evidence of a clear ripple effect felt by local authority children’s services” as a result of cuts to schools funding, SEND reforms, policy changes within education, and the growing problem of “off-rolling” of students.

It states: “Legislative and policy changes, such as schools academisation, together with changes to curricula and real-term reduction in school funding and subsequent cuts in service provision have resulted in increased demand for local authority children’s services to the extent that it was one of the biggest changes that respondents had experienced in the past two years.

“A decade of curricular and inspection reforms were reported by respondents to have keenly focused on academic attainment. This can lead to off-rolling and exclusions resulting in a greater number of children who do not attend school, or who attend alternative provision on a part-time basis.”

Off-rolling and exclusions are an area of focus for both Ofsted and the Department for Education. In 2015/16, 0.08 per cent of children were permanently excluded from state-funded schools in England – 6,685 pupils or around 35 a day. This is up from 5,795 in 2014/15.

There were also 339,360 temporary exclusions in 2015/16 – around 1,790 a day and up from 302,975 in 2014/15.

But the figures show that the exclusion rates for some children remain much higher. For example, more than half of permanent or fixed term exclusions happen in year 9 or above and boys are over three times more likely to receive a permanent exclusion; if you are a Black Caribbean Boy in year 9 or above you are likely to be excluded and if you are on free school meals, you are four times more like to receive a permanent or fixed term exclusion.

Edward Timpson is currently conducted a review of exclusion practices for the DfE and is due to report by the end of this year. Ofsted has also indicated that it will increase its focus on exclusion.

The ADCS report adds: “There are a growing number of examples where the child is ‘off-rolled’ by the school due to their ‘behaviour’, or disability, sometimes when families are at their most vulnerable. Children who are ‘off-rolled’ in this way often have complex needs and (are) those who are most at risk of contextual safeguarding which may have future implications for children’s services.”

Another concern among the local authorities in the report is the impending end in 2020 to funding for Troubled Families, a programme of targeted intervention for families with multiple problems, including crime, anti-social behaviour, truancy, unemployment, mental health problems and domestic abuse.

The report finds that the funding has enabled local authorities to “work creatively”. It states: “Half of respondents explicitly stated that the funding for the Troubled Families programme was integral to and underpinned their early help provision. Benefits from the programme include enabling better joint working or co-location with other professionals and information sharing (and) the ability to fund specific roles and approaches such as family support workers.”

However, the report adds: “This short-termist approach to children’s services funding is unsustainable, and there is significant concern about what will happen when these time-limited pots of money cease. For example, 75 per cent of respondents stated that their early help services would be cut or reduced, in some instances significantly, in 2020 when the Troubled Families programme and its funding are due to cease.”

Stuart Gallimore, president of the ADCS, said: “There is not enough money in the system to meet the level of need we are now seeing, and further cuts are planned. This is compromising our ability to improve children’s life chances.”

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