Charity urges DfE to tackle issue of 'missing' children

Nearly 50,000 children spent time ‘missing’ from education in the last academic year, according to data obtained by a children’s charity.

The National Children’s Bureau (NCB) collected data via freedom of information requests to local authorities, and received responses from 136 councils. These showed a total of 49,137 pupils were recorded as missing education at some point in the 2016/17 academic year. Children missing education (CME) are defined as children of compulsory school age who are not registered pupils at a school and are not receiving suitable education elsewhere. There is no national database for CME, rather local authorities have a statutory duty to record data for their area. According to official guidance issued to local authorities on CME, ‘Children missing education are at significant risk of underachieving, being victims of harm, exploitation or radicalisation, and becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training) later in life.’ However, not all the councils contacted by the NCB were able to supply data on CME, and there were also variations in the amount and type of data held.

The NCB found that of those children recorded missing, 15 per cent were known to social workers. This compares to just five and a half per cent of children who are known to social services nationally. The proportion of CME who were eligible for free school meals when they were last in school was also higher than the national average – 22 per cent compared to 13 per cent nationally. However, the NCB reported that not all local authorities who responded were able to provide data on these questions. They also reported significant variation between councils in the numbers of children recorded as CME – the local authority with the highest number of CME had 419 per 10,000 children, while there were just 2 CME for every 10,000 children in the local authority with the lowest. The NCB were unable to identify a clear reason for this variation, but speculate that it may be partly explained by local authorities recording and reporting data differently.

Commenting on the research, Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the NCB, said: ‘It is alarming that thousands of children are missing education every year, and vital that each one gets the right support to protect them from harm and support them back into learning. The Government has the opportunity now to update the statutory guidance and take action to understand and protect this vulnerable group.’

In light of the data it obtained the NCB has made a number of recommendations for the Department for Education (DfE), including that they should collect and analyse national-level data on CME and publish an annual report, conduct a review into the variation in the number of children recorded as CME across local authorities, and support local authorities and schools to share best practice across England.

Further information about the NCB research can be found at:https://tinyurl.com/y998s5tv

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