Every day, 3,000 children miss education – and we have no idea where they are

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On any given day in England, the whereabouts of an estimated 3,000 children who should be in school are unknown. At the same time, almost 5,000 children are awaiting a place in school or some form of alternative provision. Pete Henshaw reports

Alarming new figures reveal that in total as many as 14,800 children miss education every day – the equivalent of around 15 average-sized secondary schools. It is feared that many of the 3,000 young people whose whereabouts are unknown could be at serious risk of neglect, abuse or other harm.

The figures have been revealed in a report, Not Present, What Future?, which emphasises the links between children missing from education and risks such as sexual exploitation and forced marriage.

It states: “Certain groups of already vulnerable children are at particular risk of missing education, including pupils at risk of harm or neglect, children of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller families, children of the armed forces, missing children or runaways, (and) children and young people supervised by the youth justice system.”

A child is deemed to be missing education if they are not on a school roll and they are not receiving suitable, usually full-time, education. Calls have now been made for the government to carry out a national review of children missing education.

The information has come as a result of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests made to England’s 152 local authorities by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB). A total of 139 responded to the request, which was made in January, providing data on children missing education in their areas.

However, given difficulties in comparing much of the data, the analysis is based on “snapshot” data provided for a particular day.

It shows that within 79 local authorities, on a given day, 7,701 children were recorded as missing education – this would equate to more than 14,800 across England.

A number of these students will be missing school due to SEN or health needs or because they are home-educated.

However, within 45 local authorities, 1,474 children were missing education because they were awaiting a place in school or alternative provision, equating to almost 5,000 children nationwide.

Across the same 45 authorities, there were a total of 1,022 children missing education whose whereabouts were unknown on a particular day, equating to more than 3,000 children across England.

Other reasons for missing education cited by local authorities included being from a Gypsy, Roma or Traveller background or female students who become pregnant or are young mothers.

However, the NCB has also expressed concern that 42 per cent of the local authorities responding to its request did or could not supply any breakdown by category or reasons. As such, it has called on central government to lead improvements in the way that authorities collate and record this kind of data. 

Dr Hilary Emery, chief executive of NCB, who writes on this issue in SecEd this week, said: “Children who miss out on education are at significant risk of failing academically, and may end up as NEETs in later life because their school life has been disrupted.

“There is also the real possibility that some of these children will suffer physical and emotional harm, particularly if they are taken off the school roll and their whereabouts become unknown.”

Dr Emery warned that the recent high-profile cases of child sexual exploitation have involved children classified as missing from education – she also emphasised the correlation between missing education and becoming a victim of forced marriage.

She continued: “Reliable data on the numbers of children affected is extremely hard to come by, each local authority seems to record something different and Department for Education does not report on the national picture. Our data shows the problem is widespread but more research is required.

“We are calling on government to conduct a national review of children missing education, to improve the way data is collected both locally and nationally. The review should consider how local authorities, schools, social services and their partners can work with children and their families, to ensure they and their families receive the best support possible so they can get back into education.”

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “We are in danger of losing a generation of children because they feel they have no stake in society. We need to learn more about the numbers of those missing out on education and the reasons that this happens.

“It is particularly concerning that two-fifths of those missing education are awaiting a place in school or alternative provision; we need more capacity within the system, in the right places, and increased capacity in schools to meet a broad range of pupil needs, particularly for the most vulnerable children.”

Not Present, What Future? Children missing education in England is available from www.ncb.org.uk/missingeducation


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