The eight places where children missing education can be "found"

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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The safety net preventing pupils from dropping out of their education is “stretched to capacity” and as many as one million pupils could be missing formal education to some extent.

The warning has come in a report from the Local Government Association (LGA), which blames a lack of resources and powers for schools and councils alongside gaps in legislation and poor coordination of admissions, attendance and exclusions.

A key finding in the report is that the narrow definition of what constitutes “missing education” is leading to “blind spots” and exacerbating problems. Another issue is the “paucity of any comprehensive, reliable data” for children missing education.

The statutory definition for children missing education states: “Children missing education are children of compulsory school age who are not registered pupils at a school and are not receiving suitable education otherwise than at a school.”

However, the report uses a wider definition: “Any child of statutory school age who is missing out on a formal, full-time education.”

By formal, it means: “an education that is well-structured, contains significant taught input, pursues learning goals that are appropriate to a child or young person’s age and ability and which supports them to access their next stage in education, learning or employment.”

By full-time, it means an education for at least 18 hours per week.

This wider definition is important, it argues, because there are “multiple routes whereby children may end-up missing out on a formal full-time education” and there are many gaps across the system into which children can fall.

It identifies eight common destinations where children missing education can be “found”.

  • On a school roll, but routinely not attending or with very limited attendance.
  • Receiving long-term tuition at home (in person or online) but that tuition does not constitute formal full-time education in either duration or content.
  • In an unregistered or illegal school. According to Ofsted the most common types of unregistered school are alternative provision, general education providers and places of religious instruction.
  • In illegal employment (full-time employment of any kind for a child of statutory school age). This is not a widespread problem.
  • Elective home education but where the parent is not able or willing to provide education that would constitute formal full-time education in duration or content.
  • On a waiting list for a school place where the provision of a suitable place cannot be resolved quickly.
  • In long-term unsuitable alternative provision which does not meet a child’s educational needs or which falls a long way short of a full-time educational offer.
  • Unknown to children’s services where the child or family is not previously known in any way by the responsible local authority.

The report concludes: “Our best estimate is that in 2018/19, more than a quarter of a million children in England may have missed out on a formal full-time education, which equates to around two per cent of the school-age population. However, this is just an estimate. Depending on how one defines ‘formal’ and ‘full-time’ it could be closer to 200,000 or more than one million.

“The main concern is that we simply do not know if children and young people are getting their entitlement to education, and we cannot be certain of the risks to which they are being exposed by not being in full-time education.”

Gaps in legislation responsible for the problem include parents not being required to notify their council if they decide to home-educate; local authorities having no powers to monitor the educational provision being made for a home-educated child; and no requirement for schools to share attendance registers with councils (some do so voluntarily)

The LGA says that the Covid-19 pandemic is set to make this situation even worse. Some councils have reported increases in home education registrations of more than 200 per cent for September and October, compared to the same period last year, fuelled by parental fears over Covid.

The LGA is calling for schools to be forced to share attendance registers with councils and for local authorities to have more power to check a child’s home schooling to ensure they are not being taught in “unsuitable or dangerous environments”.

The report also finds that children with additional vulnerabilities – such as social, behavioural, medical or mental health needs – are among those most at risk of missing education.

The LGA wants to see a new duty on councils to maintain a register of children not in school and a new duty on parents to provide information if their child is not attending a mainstream school.

It also wants government to broaden the definition of children missing education and for better data to be collected.

Judith Blake, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “The rising numbers of children not in education is hugely concerning, but is hard to tackle due a lack of council powers and resources, and flaws in an education framework ill-suited to an inclusive agenda.

“While parents, councils and schools all have responsibilities to ensure that children receive suitable education, some significant gaps in legislation mean that it is possible for children to slip through the net and be exposed to serious risks by not being in full-time education. The pandemic is only likely to increase these risks.

“The Spending Review need to provide councils and schools with enough resources to ensure that children are able to access a formal full-time education they are entitled to. We also want to work with government to make swift changes to legislation to make the education safety net more robust.”


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