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Almost 120,000 children of compulsory school age were recorded as missing education at some point in 2022/23 which is up by almost 25% from the year before, according to new statistics published today.

The figures from the Department of Education also showed a surge in the number of children home educated in the same year.

The data shows that the number of children missing education in 2022/23 increased by 23% relative to the previous year: in 2021/22, the Department estimated that 94,900 children were reported as a child missing education at some point in the year.  

As Children’s Commissioner, I am really shocked and very concerned to see the very high number of children who were out of school at some point last year. These statistics are an absolute scandal and we must do something about it before they get even more out of control.

I am deeply worried about the consequences of children being absent from school or missing education. Research shows that children who are absent from school often leave school without the qualifications they need, and some are vulnerable to criminal exploitation.

Today’s new data also shows an increase of 8.4% in the number of children recorded as being home educated at some point in the same year, bringing the figure to 126,000 from 116,000 the year before.

When done well, home education can be a positive experience for children and their families. But my office has heard from local authorities that in many cases parents are not opting for home education out of choice but rather a ‘last resort’. Many parents say they are being forced into home education because they can’t get the special educational support or mental health support that their children need. 

Last week, I published a report looking at which children were most likely to leave the state education system. Using my statutory powers, I asked all local authorities to tell me about the children who had left their school rolls between Spring 2022 and Spring 2023.

My analysis found that children who were living in the most deprived areas and those who needed extra support to engage with education were more likely to leave the school roll than their peers. 

My report found that children missing education were much more likely to have come from deprived neighbourhoods or to be known to social care. Local authorities told my office that they did not have the powers or resources to find these children or to support them back into education. 

The statistics published today also show that children missing education can often be out of the classroom for significant periods of time. 39% of all children identified by local authorities as missing education in Autumn 2023 had been out of education for more than a term (12 weeks or more). Concerningly, local authorities did not know for how long 16% of the children they had identified had been missing education. 

I am also worried about children moving into home education not through choice. My report published last week also showed that children with special educational needs and those from disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to be home educated. My research found that many children who were home educated had a bad experience of the school system. 82% of children who left the school roll for home education had a history of poor attendance. Parents told my office that they often opted for home education as a last resort. 

We must do much more to enable children to engage with education. I want to see a state education system with more support for children who disengage and become persistently absent. To ensure that no child falls between the cracks of the education system, I believe we must introduce a unique identifier for every child. I also want to see greater accountability on this issue. Ofsted should be looking at school attendance and children missing education as one of their top priorities.  

Since becoming Children’s Commissioner, I have made education an absolute priority. Wherever they grow up, whatever their background and whatever their needs, children deserve a world class education which is as ambitious for them, as they are for themselves. These figures out today show us that there is still a great deal to do, to ensure that every child can access their right to education.  

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