28th November 2022

Out of sight, out of mind?

This year I have focused relentlessly on children’s right to education and addressing the severe evidence gaps across government concerning children missing from education. Every child has the right to receive a suitable education and yet thousands of children every year fall out of education and out of sight all together.

Recently, the Centre for Social Justice published a report investigating the numbers of children who were electively home educated in England. The report, ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’ found that by the start of the 2021/22 academic year a record high of at least 81,000 children were being home educated. This is 34% higher than before the pandemic. In some areas, the total number of children in home education more than doubled.

I have spent much of this year investigating the barriers to engaging in education through my Attendance Audit. My research has shown that too often, the system that should be supporting children and their families, has only let them down. Whilst for some family’s home education is a philosophical choice, and a right we must uphold, my own research, supported by the CSJ’s findings, has found that for many it is a last resort after they have found the local education system unable to meet their child’s needs. There are some groups of children, such as those with a social worker where safeguarding issues have been identified in the home for whom I am particularly concerned about home education arrangements. These children should be attending school in order for them to be best supported.

My target is for 100% attendance at school. This is a system target. It’s about inclusion. Making sure there is a fantastic school place for every child, that they want to attend every day. This target is not about blaming parents if the system cannot, at present, support their child attending school. It’s about everyone that works with children, and that has a responsibility towards them, coalescing around an ambitious target. It is an ambition for the system. To achieve it, we need system wide alongside child-level solutions.

This week, I am continuing my own focus on these issues firstly with the publication of my investigation into the role of Alternative Provision in supporting children to re-engage in education and secondly further analysis of daily attendance data.

The only way that we will get this right nationally and locally is to continue to investigate the reasons why children fall out of sight, even if this means systems coming face to face with sometimes inconvenient truths. We cannot afford to be complacent and the system must not simply accept that some children will fall through the gaps, more needs to be done to support and protect our most vulnerable children.