THE Sutton Academy has made positive strides in a range of areas, including teaching and pupil behaviour, but still needs to make further improvements, Ofsted inspectors have found.

The secondary school, which has 1,201 pupils, has also been criticised for adopting the policy of "off-rolling" some pupils in Year 11, which has contributed to an overall inspection judgement of requires improvement.

The inspection, carried out in May, praised school leaders for making significant improvements to many areas of the school’s work since the last inspection in 2017.

There have been "widespread improvements to the effectiveness of teaching" which is helping pupils make considerably better progress across the curriculum.

Improvements made in the teaching of English are also highlighted while pupils' behaviour and their strong work ethic is also praised for being among the academy's many strengths.

St Helens Star:

Alison Sherman, the Sutton Academy's principal

However, the process of off-rolling, a policy widely used across the secondary education system in St Helens to move pupils into alternative education, is criticised. Most commonly in St Helens pupils are moved from a mainstream school's roll to the Launchpad, which provides alternative education service.

Off-rolling is the practice of removing a pupil from the school roll without using a permanent exclusion.

The pupils do not then feature on a school's performance statistics.

Off-rolling was highlighted in the national news last year and Ofsted has since launched a crackdown.

The report states that for the past three years, leaders At Sutton have removed "a significant number of pupils from the school’s roll during Year 11", which was not in "pupils’ best interests".

Alison Sherman, the academy's principal, said Ofsted's definition of off-rolling was an area "of huge disappointment and controversy" and means the highest grade that could be awarded for leadership and management is requirement of improvement.

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Teaching at the school has been praised

In a statement, she told the Star: "This is a political decision and one that is being used to change local practice.

"St Helens local authority has agreed that this process will change immediately, however, it has resulted in a lower grade than we deserve.

"The inspectors were very clear that the Sutton Academy is a good school and I believe this has been reflected in the overwhelmingly positive report."

The principal explained to parents that her school's policy, mirrored in secondaries across St Helens until the crackdown, would often see alternative education begin as early as year 8 to avoid a pupil receiving a permanent exclusion. The pupil would generally be taken off the school's roll in year 11.

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Pupils said have benefited from varied and high-quality opportunities to enhance their personal development

Aside from off-rolling, inspectors pointed to other areas where they believe the academy can improve.

The report said "pupils have continued to underachieve in external examinations since the previous inspection, particularly in English, science, history, geography and modern foreign languages".

It added that "disadvantaged pupils have not made the progress of which they are capable during their time at the school".

Many other strengths are identified though, with pupils said to be benefiting "from varied and high-quality opportunities to enhance their personal development", helping to prepare them for the future.

Leaders are said to have "established a strong culture of safeguarding, which is underpinned by positive relationships between pupils and staff".

Strong leadership of the sixth form "has led to sustained improvement in students’ outcome" and 16 to 19 study programmes are ranked as good.

Quality of teaching, learning and assessment received an overall ranking of good as did personal development, behaviour and welfare of children.

What is off-rolling

By Ofsted's definition off-rolling is the practice of removing a pupil from the school roll without using a permanent exclusion, when the removal is primarily in the best interests of the school, rather than the the best interests of the pupil. This includes pressuring a parent to remove their child from the school roll.

While it may not always be unlawful, Ofsted believes off-rolling is never acceptable.

What has St Helens Council said about Ofsted's findings

A spokesperson for said: “We believe that school leaders and the local authority have worked together for the benefit of all students.

“The practice of transferring a student from a school’s roll to that of the Alternative Education Provision Service was done in good faith, transparently and regulated by common agreement between schools and the Alternative Education Provision, with strict criteria.

“Those placed on roll at the provision, which was judged to be good by Ofsted in March 2017, were already accessing the provision full-time – and parents have to agree to the move by signing a letter.

“Prior to the publication of Sutton Academy’s inspection report, the local authority and school leaders undertook a review of the agreed procedure and determined that students accessing alternative education would no longer be taken off the roll of their original school.

“All schools are aware of this change.”