5th June 2022

As the summer half term starts, the Children’s Commissioner shares deep dive into The Big Ask findings on attendance

Welcome back! It’s the beginning of a new half-term and, arguably, one of the most important. For many children this will be the last half-term with friends before secondary school, further education, or higher education. It’s a time for revision, exams, and preparing a fun summer ahead.

For teachers, and all professionals working to support children, I know this is an incredibly busy time for you and I want to thank you in advance for all the hours of support and guidance you are putting in to support the children in your care.

For me, this term is all about attendance and making sure that every child is accounted for, both in the summer term and as we prepare for the start of the school year in September. My mission is to make attendance everyone’s business. I want 100% attendance on the first day back to school in September and to achieve this we need to work together now to ensure that no child falls through the cracks. Last term almost 1 in 4 children were persistently absent (missing over 10% of their sessions). That’s 1.7 million children not attending school regularly in autumn 2021, compared to 916,000 children in autumn 2020[1]– we need to start changing this now.

In April 2021, I launched The Big Ask: I wanted to hear from children across England about their lives and their priorities, their aspirations and worries for the future. In six weeks, we gathered over half a million responses, making it the largest-ever survey of children anywhere in the world. We learnt a lot from these responses, and they have helped to shape my priorities and my longer-term strategy. Crucially, The Big Ask also told me a lot about children we often don’t get to hear from. – children in home education or children not in education at all.

Today, I am publishing my team’s analysis of the responses to The Big Ask from children aged 9 – 17 who were being home educated or missing from education altogether.

This report details how likely it is that a child is out of school, depending on their characteristics. We also explored what these children told us about their barriers to success, which relates to why they are not in school– many raising issues around the lack of SEND and mental health support, bullying, physical health barriers and pressure in school. One boy, aged 15, not in education said:

“I think some young people like me who are autistic who are unable to attend school for many reasons, such as sensory difficulties and anxiety have less opportunities […] The education system does not cater for children like me who finds the school environment too difficult to access, there is not the right schools for people like me” – Boy, 15, not in education

Similar to the issues of provision for children with SEND, children also talked about how not receiving support for their mental health led to them not being able to take part in education. One boy, aged 15, also not in education said:

“Not getting help when its needed. I am on 3 Child mental health services (CAMHS) waiting list for nearly three years now” – Boy, 15, not in education

 We’re concerned that the number of children not in school may have increased throughout the pandemic. We know the reasons why a child might not be returning to school are complex, with this analysis showing that children with additional needs or vulnerabilities are more likely to be missing from education settings. Whilst this report doesn’t provide all of the answers, it gives us some evidence on the risks for children falling through the gaps in education.

Now, we need to focus our efforts on providing the support these children need to get them back into the classroom and thriving. On the 15th June, I will be publishing the findings from my Attendance Audit – which went across every local authority and also consisted of a deep dive into attendance in 10 local authorities in England. This paper will provide tangible solutions which my team and I have developed based on the views of children and frontline professionals.

Let’s make sure the right systems are in place to get children back into school and help them stay there.

[1] DfE, Absence rates by school and geographic level’ from ‘Pupil absence in schools in England: autumn term 2021, link.