Our new report, Children Missing Education, shares findings from in-depth interviews with 17 families who have experiences of missing education. The existing legal definition of a child missing education is “children who are not on a school roll and are not receiving education elsewhere.”
Our research found that the reasons for children being out of education are complex and often interconnected. Factors related to the child themselves, their family and home, school and wider systems and society all play a part.
It could be:
- They felt unsupported by their school in relation to bullying, mental health and special educational needs and disabilities.
- Their family was in crisis and couldn’t prioritise getting a school place until the crisis was somewhat resolved.
- They may have recently moved and couldn’t get a school place due to no availability in the new area.
- Families may also have only recently moved into the country.
- Have different ideas to schools as to what an education was and how it should be delivered.
While missing school, children experienced a wide range of feelings and associated issues. We found they frequently reported feeling bored and lonely. More worryingly, older children were more susceptible to falling in with the ‘wrong crowd’ and at risk of sexual exploitation. One of the families we spoke to said when her daughter, aged 15, was out of school she was occasionally found in older men’s cars.
After prolonged periods away from a school environment some children experienced fear of going back – this could be because they were afraid of being bullied, not being able to make friends or being behind.
We also found carers’ poor experiences at school affected their decisions about their child’s education. Robbie’s dad believed school was a “mind factory” and, alongside other influencing factors, he decided it was in Robbie’s best interest to be home schooled.
Another area that came to light involved how local authorities track children missing education. Key professionals across three local authorities highlighted how practices differed across areas. While this is partly a result of the different populations and pressures on school places across the country, local authorities felt policy on children missing education was getting vaguer and that data protection limited the sharing of information to trace children.
The local authorities we spoke to also raised concerns about children who are apparently on a school roll, but aren’t in fact receiving an education, either because of illegal exclusion, dual school registration, ineffective home education or
unsuitable part-time timetables. Despite being contrary to national guidance1, our research finds that schools are still unofficially excluding pupils. An inquiry by the Office for the Children’s Commissioner in 2013 estimated that thousands of children were illegally excluded, though exact figures are hard to estimate as no data is collected.
As with previous research by the Children’s Society, local authority stakeholders feared that budget cuts , notably to Education Welfare services, meant that they could no longer support children to receive an education as well as they once did. The increasingly fragmented nature of the education system, and their changing responsibilities, also meant authorities were concerned they could no longer hold schools and academies to account over this group of young people.
Some schools are also struggling to meet the needs of children with SEND or mental ill health. Budget cuts to schools will only make this situation worse unless senior leadership teams within schools can prioritise dedicated time and resource to pastoral support.
This is why we are calling on Government 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.
You can read the full report on our website and follow the debate on Twitter: #NotLearning.