The government has been urged to take urgent action to help identify and support the thousands of children who drop out of education, often for months or years at a time.
NCB has published a report which highlights a Freedom of Information (FOI) request carried out in 2014 which estimated that over 14,800 children were missing education across England at any one time and the whereabouts of approximately 3,000 of these children were unknown.
Worryingly, no national data is collected on these children, the NCB warns.
The charity warns that children missing education are often vulnerable – many have tough family circumstances and may have special educational needs too. Missing school further undermines their future education and employment prospects and deprives them of a protective environment, meaning they are more at risk of falling into crime, or suffering abuse or exploitation.
Problems like being bullied at school, suffering challenges at home, and having special educational needs, can often combine to cause a child to miss out on education, often for substantial periods of time. Children who miss education often face multiple challenges, ranging from special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and mental health issues, to neglect and domestic violence.
Some children were missing out on school because:
- They refused to go to school following conflict with other pupils or teachers.
- They had experienced problems at home like domestic violence.
- They had moved home repeatedly.
- They were not getting the right support at school dealing with special education needs or mental health issues.
- Their parents have moved to England from abroad and struggle to understand the UK’s school admissions process.
“What is clear from the report is that too many children can’t access their basic right to an education. Cash-strapped schools and local authorities must have the resources they need to help vulnerable children stay in school and help them return when they’re ready,” says the report.
The report calls for:
- A wider definition of “children missing education”, to include those technically on a school roll but who are not accessing full-time education (including where they’ve been illegally excluded).
- Resources for schools and local authorities to identify children at risk of dropping out and to help them to return.
- Better data collection at local and national level and clear duties to share information between agencies to make sure children are getting the support they need.
Debbie Barnes, Chair of the ADCS’s Educational Achievement Policy Committee, said: “The report rightly recognises that children go missing from education for many different reasons, but this can be the first sign of vulnerability to all forms of abuse and neglect, including sexual exploitation or radicalisation.
“Current legislation does not enable local authorities to safeguard vulnerable learners or to ensure that they receive a suitable education, for example, we do not always know when children have fallen off the radar as there is no requirement on some schools, including ‘illegal’ schools, or on parents/carers of children being electively home educated to provide any information or evidence of the quality of their pupils’ educational experiences or of their health and wellbeing.
“This is an area of pressing concern for all directors of children’s services as it reduces our ability to ensure that learners are safe and receiving a well-rounded curriculum that enables them to thrive,” she added.
Ms Barnes said the Association welcomes the recommendations in this report aimed at improving information sharing between local authorities and schools and extending the definition of children missing education, alongside the remit of statutory guidance, to bridge any gaps that currently exist. She added that they would support a duty on schools, including academies, free schools and independent schools, to inform local authorities of all children on a part-time timetable and those in alternative provision and would argue that this should be further extended to include all children not in mainstream education.
“This will help to ensure that no child missing from education goes without the timely and appropriate support that they both need and deserve and that they and their educational outcomes are safeguarded. Without this some children and young people will continue to be hidden from view and their welfare placed at risk,” she concluded.