Research published by the National Children’s Bureau raises fresh concerns over the welfare of children missing education in England.
- 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.
- As stated by Government, children missing education (CME) 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.
- 15% of children recorded as CME were known to social services.
- The proportion of CME receiving free school meals was 9 per centage points higher than the whole school population.
- National Children’s Bureau is calling on the Department for Education to take urgent action to address the wild variation and gaps in data.
Results of a Freedom of Information request published by the National Children’s Bureau suggests that 49,187 children were missing education at some point in 2016-17, raising fresh concerns over the welfare of this poorly understood group of children.
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.
Local authorities were asked to provide data on how many of the children missing education in their area were in receipt of free school meals or known to social services. The results suggest a potential link with both poverty and being referred to social services.
The proportion of CME who were eligible for free school meals when they were last in school – often linked to a low family income or being dependent on benefits - is 9 percentage points higher than average (22% as opposed to 13%), highlighting the link between deprivation and poor education outcomes.
The research also showed that 15% of CME were ‘known’ to social services (only 5.5% of all children are referred to social services). These children who are on the radar of social workers and are also missing education, may be at significant risk of abuse, harm or falling into crime.
Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau, 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.’
There is a huge variation in the numbers of children recorded as CME across the country, with 419 CME per 10,000 children in the local authority with the highest numbers, to just 2 children for every 10,000 in the lowest. There is no clear reason for this variation, though it is likely that local authorities are still reporting and recording data differently.
Furthermore, of the 137 councils who provided data in response to our FOI request, 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 no national level data on CME.
The National Children’s Bureau is calling on the Department for Education to take urgent action to update statutory guidance to address the wild variation and gaps in local authority data and collect data at the national level so there is a clearer picture of progress in tracing and meeting the needs of these vulnerable children.