Children missing in education – a school's duties

Written by: Frances Pickworth | Published:
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As part of a drive to protect children missing education from harm, the government has introduced new requirements for sharing information. Frances Pickworth takes a look

New regulations – Children Missing Education: Statutory guidance for local authorities – which have been in force since September, are intended to ensure all children receive a suitable education and are protected from risk of harm, exploitation, radicalisation, underachieving or not being in education, employment or training later in life.

Schools must now keep more detailed records of pupils who join and leave, and pass this information to their local authority. This way, local authorities become more quickly aware of children who might be at risk.

We know this issue is increasingly at the forefront of school leaders’ minds. Our latest survey found that around a third of secondary school leaders (32 per cent) are worried about children missing from education (CME), and issues that can be related – including domestic violence and child sexual exploitation – are also causing concern.

If effective, the new requirements may help to lessen these concerns, but it would also have been easy to miss them in the start-of-term rush. So here is a summary of the why, what and how of the new regulations.

Why are there new rules?

Ofsted has been vocal about the issue of CME. In February 2013, it published a report highlighting gaps in the data local authorities held about missing children. Then, after an assessment of schools in Birmingham and Tower Hamlets in July 2015, chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw expressed concern about the possible national implications of findings on how missing children were being identified and supported.

The Ofsted chief warned that children were being put at risk because schools were not required to inform the local authority of all pupils who were removed from the roll. He mentioned in particular the danger of children attending unregistered provision; Ofsted has lately forced the closure of a number of these illegal schools due to safeguarding concerns.

Citing the potential dangers facing children who go missing from school, including female genital mutilation, forced marriage and child sexual exploitation, Sir Michael called for rules on reporting CME to be changed.

What are the new rules?

Collecting and sharing data about new pupils and those who leave, the new requirements build on existing rules about informing the local authority when a pupil is deleted from the school’s roll (the admission register).

The 2006 Pupil Registration Regulations established 15 grounds under which a pupil can be deleted from the roll. Until this academic year, a school only had to inform the local authority when a pupil was removed from the roll under five of those reasons, but under the 2016 regulations a school must now do this for any one of the 15.

This means that you are now required to inform your local authority immediately where a pupil has been removed from the roll because, for example, he/she is moving to another school, has failed to return after a holiday, or has been absent without authorisation for more than 20 days.

You will need to give the local authority more information about the pupil, including the name, address and telephone number of the parent/carer that he/she lives with, the child’s future address, and the new school (as applicable).

In addition, schools will have to store more information about pupils on their admission registers (including details of another parent a child may live with). You must also tell the local authority when a new pupil joins, and pass on the information about that pupil that you hold on the roll.

The government has left it to individual local authorities to decide whether schools have to provide information for pupils who join or leave at “standard transition points”, i.e. pupils of compulsory school age who start in the school’s first year group or leave in its last. Check with your local authority for local requirements.

When pupils are absent

The 2016 regulations have also updated the rules about making enquiries when pupils are absent from school.
Schools must work “jointly” with local authorities to make “reasonable enquiries” about a pupil’s whereabouts before deleting them from the roll. This applies where the pupil has been continuously absent for 20 days or more without authorisation or has failed to return to school for 10 days after an authorised absence.

This does not apply, however, if the school knows the pupil has been prevented from attending due to illness or “any unavoidable cause”.

There is no set definition of “reasonable enquiries”, but the new guidance suggests that these could include checking with relatives, neighbours, landlords or any agencies involved with the family.

The implications for you

The new rules mean that schools will have to develop processes and systems for collecting and recording the information needed. You will need to collaborate with your local authority on arrangements for data sharing and making joint enquiries when a child goes missing from school.

You may also need to update school policies to reflect these systems and arrangements – attendance and safeguarding policies, for example – and make sure relevant administrative staff are familiar with the changes.

The government in its Impact Assessment of the new Education (Pupil Registration) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 has warned that costs associated with obtaining the required information “may fall disproportionately” on schools with a high turnover of pupils.

If this is the case for your school, you will need to work closely with parents to ensure they understand why the information is needed, and make sure systems for collecting information are efficient and easy to use.

  • Frances Pickworth is a senior researcher at The Key, which provides leadership and management support to schools. For more information, visit www.thekeysupport.com

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