The harrowing stories behind the thousands of pupils who are missing education

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

With almost 15,000 children missing education, new research has shed light on the wide range of complex and often connected issues behind the statistics. It also calls for more to be done to stop these children slipping through the net. Pete Henshaw reports

Children missing education are vulnerable, often with tough family circumstances, SEN or mental health issues, perhaps at risk of falling into crime, or at risk of abuse or exploitation. Despite this, no national data is collected on these children and many are slipping through the cracks in the system.

A call has been made this week to change this situation after the publication of an in-depth report describing the huge range of family experiences that can lead to children dropping out of or missing education.

Children Missing Education has been produced by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) with funding from Lankelly Chase and is calling for better local and national data collection.

It also says that the legal definition of “children missing education” is not fit-for-purpose as it does not include many children not receiving an education, such as those who have been illegally excluded.

The report also says that a lack of resources is a barrier to identifying and supporting children missing education and calls for more funding for “cash-strapped” local authorities.

The research comes after the government last year introduced new requirements for sharing information to help local authorities intervene more quickly when children drop out of school.

Schools must now keep more detailed records of pupils who join and leave, and pass this information to their local authority if a pupil is removed from the roll (Children missing in education – a school’s duties, SecEd, November 2016:

However, despite this, the only indications of the scale of the problem came in 2014, when the NCB published research based on Freedom of Information requests to local authorities. These findings suggested that as many as 14,800 children miss education every day.

This figure includes almost 5,000 children who are awaiting a place in school or some form of alternative provision. Furthermore, on any given day in England, the whereabouts of 3,000 of these children were unknown, it said (Every day, 3,000 children miss education and we have no idea where they are, SecEd, June 2014:

The latest NCB report says that 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 full-time curriculum. The report highlights the issue of unofficial, illegal exclusions. For example, it includes the story of one student who was not officially permanently excluded or removed from the roll, but who was sent home with his mother being told that he had been excluded.

The report adds: “Such young people do not appear as children missing education (as they are on a school roll) even though they are not receiving an education. In local authority A, young people who were unofficially excluded from school only came to the attention of the authority once the young person offended and the youth offending team got involved.”

Other reasons children drop-out or miss school, the report states, include family breakdown or domestic violence, with repeated house moves being a common issue. Children in care were often likely to be among those missing education.
Other children drop-out as a result of bullying, especially if it was not being addressed, or due to mental ill health.

Another common theme in the report is a lack of appropriate support for SEND, leading to children dropping out.
The children of parents newly arrived in the UK can also miss education because of language barriers or a lack of understanding of the school admissions system.

The report states: “These factors were often concurrent. Carers might withdraw their child while they resolved a family crisis or because they no longer felt school was the right place for them. Children might also refuse to go. In many cases, children were missing education due to a range of complex, inter-related factors. Often, missing education could be the culmination of a series of events, rather than precipitating any such events.”

The report warns that many of these children are not receiving any alternative provision and older children missing education could be at risk of abuse or exploitation.

One case study in the report is of Amelia, 15, who developed mental health problems after her parents separated and was expelled from school when her behaviour deteriorated. She spent time in and out of schools and PRUs, before the threat of an Attendance Order led to her relationship with her mother breaking down. She stopped spending time at home and was identified by police as being at risk of sexual exploitation after being repeatedly found in cars with men.

The report highlights the key role of schools in re-engaging with children missing education.

However, it adds: “The ability of schools to support children missing education was dependent on the quality of teaching, availability of (suitable) alternative provision, processes for tracking and addressing any changes in attendance, and planning for individual children and their needs.”

Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the NCB, said: “It’s unacceptable that tens of thousands of children in England can’t access their fundamental right to an education. These children are often living on the margins, disengaged with school and invisible to other services.

“They are often very vulnerable. Away from the safety and security of school they’re more at risk of abuse and exploitation, taking part in criminal activity, and missing out on support for special educational needs and mental health problems.

“Education is the key to a child’s future. National government must lead the way so that all children get the right support to learn.”

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