Directors of children’s services warn current legislation does not support councils in safeguarding vulnerable learners as new figures reveal nearly 50,000 children are missing out on a suitable education.
Freedom of information requests made to councils by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) have found 49,187 children in England were reported as missing education in 2016/17.
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.
CMSs are vulnerable to a range of threats, from being victims of harm, exploitation or radicalisation to becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training) later in life.
According to NCB’s findings, 15% of children recorded as CME were known to social services, and the proportion of CME receiving free school meals was 9% higher than the whole school population.
‘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,’ said NCB chief executive Anna Feuchtwang.
‘The Government has the opportunity now to update the statutory guidance and take action to understand and protect this vulnerable group.’
The children’s charity’s research also uncovered huge variation in the numbers of children recorded as CME across the country.
In the local authority with the highest numbers there were 419 CME per 10,000 children, and just two children for every 10,000 in the area with the lowest.
The NCB also found that of the 137 councils who provided data, more than half (86) said they were unable to provide figures for the number of CME in receipt of free schools meals and 51 were unable to provide this information for the number of CME known to children’s services.
There is also no national level data on children missing from education.
Responding to the charity’s findings, Debbie Barnes, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) Educational Achievement Policy Committee, said: ‘In the absence of national level data showing the number of children missing from education across the country many children are effectively hidden from education and, in some cases, local authority children’s services, in that we do not have a true picture of this cohort, their needs or the opportunity to offer the timely and appropriate support they need to thrive.’
Ms Barnes said they had to be clear about ‘identifying and preventing’ those who are falling through the gaps in education, and called for Government legislation to support this.
‘Current legislation does not support local authorities to effectively safeguard vulnerable learners and ensure they are receiving a suitable education either in their home or in unregistered settings, also known as illegal schools,’ she said.
‘For example, there is no requirement on some schools, or on parents of children being electively home educated to provide information or evidence of the quality of their pupils’ education or their health and wellbeing.
‘This is seriously concerning for directors of children’s services as it reduces our ability to ensure children are safe, well supported and receiving a good standard of education, and should be for government too.
‘Without urgent action from government to bridge the gaps in legislation that currently exist vulnerable children and young people will continue to be caught in the middle.’