We are calling on the Government 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. Off the radar of schools and other services, these children can be at considerable risk of harm.
The call comes as we publish a new report shedding light on the experiences of children not accessing their right to an education.
Despite the duty on local authorities to provide education to every child, significant numbers drop off the school roll and do not receive an education at home either. Many others are still technically enrolled in a school, but are not accessing a fulltime curriculum.
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, worryingly, it also deprives them of a protective environment, meaning they’re more at risk of falling into crime, or suffering abuse or exploitation.
Through in-depth interviews with children, young people and their families, as well as focus groups with professionals, the National Children’s Bureau has uncovered how 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.
Worryingly, no national data is collected on these children, but recent Freedom of Information requests conducted by the National Children’s Bureau in 2014 and the BBC in 2016, suggests tens of thousands of children are missing education each year.
Some of the our interivew with children and young people show the challenges that face many children missing education:
Amelia is 15 years old. She lives with her Mum, older brother and younger sister. Amelia missed school on several occasions over a three-year period following the development of mental health difficulties after her parents’ divorce. When she was out of school, Amelia starting to spend time with older people and became at risk of sexual exploitation.
Sam is seven years old. Sam lives with his dad and two siblings. Sam’s parents’ broke up and he went to live with his mum. When he went to stay with his dad, Sam’s dad found bruises on Sam’s arm from his mum’s new partner. They went to the police. Sam’s mum still claimed child benefit for Sam, so his dad could not apply for a school place as he could not prove Sam was living with him. It was only when she was threatened with a School Attendance Order that she stopped claiming child benefit. Sam has now started primary school, but he misses his dad when there.
July is 14 years old. She lives with her mum. July has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. She also suffers from depression and self-harms. July started missing lessons in Year Seven and stopped going to school altogether in Year 9. After she received a diagnosis for ASD, she went to a specialist school, but they did not help. Her behaviour got worse and she repeatedly ran away from school, which led to exclusions. When we spoke to July and her mum, July was spending all her time at home alone and was not receiving an education.
Some children refused to go to school after conflict with other pupils or teachers, or because of problems at home like domestic violence. Many children in the research had also moved home repeatedly.
In other cases, children miss education because they didn’t get the right support at school. For example, the report highlighted how some families felt their school didn’t have the appropriate support to deal with their child’s special education needs or mental health issues.
Other children miss out on education because 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.
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. www.ncb.org.uk/missingeducation
About the report
The National Children’s Bureau (NCB) research into children missing education was funded by Lankelly Chase and took place between September 2015 and January 2017. The overarching aim of our research was to give voice to children missing out on an education by developing an understanding of the pathways children take into missing education and what might prevent this, including effectiveness of policy and practice.
Research methods included a literature review and interviews with 17 families (child and carer) from across three local authorities where the child had experience of missing education. Children missing education officers and leads at these three local authorities were also interviewed and focus groups were held with local authority stakeholders who worked with those missing education.
 From a Freedom of Information (FOI) request in 2014 by NCB to local authorities it was estimated that over 14,800 children were missing education across England at any one time. The whereabouts of approximately 3,000 of these children were unknown (NCB, 2014). More recently, the BBC completed a FOI request showing 33,262 school-aged children were recorded as missing from education in the academic year ending July 2015 (Talwar, 2016).