All children have a right to a good education, and school plays such a key part in children’s lives. Our reports have looked at how the education system supports children, particularly the most vulnerable. We have examined how some children are falling through gaps in the education system, focussing on the use of exclusions and off-rolling, and the effect this can have on children’s life prospects. We have shone a light on the increase in home-schooling, on the growing attainment gap that is leaving some children languishing behind many of their peers, and the considerable impact that the Covid crisis has had on children’s education.
All children have a fundamental right to get an education; the six months children spent out of school this year was the biggest disruption to that right since the second World War. Most children in England were unable to go to school for most, if not all, of lockdown, leading to the loss of roughly 575 million school days between March and the summer holidays.
We wanted to hear directly from children how they’ve found going back to school this September, and the good news is that it has gone extremely well for the vast majority of children. 7 out of 10 told us they were excited to be back at school, and this rose to 8 out of 10 among primary school kids. When asked to pick the words that best describe how they feel about being back in the classroom, 59% chose ‘happy’. As one girl put it, it’s just “being with my friends again and a bit of normality”.
We investigate a system that is disjointed and often failing to target those disadvantaged children with development problems who most need early help.
It comes amid a recent warning from childcare providers that one in four nurseries and pre-schools fear closure within the year, rising to one in three in the most disadvantaged areas, as a result of the coronavirus lockdown.
Our findings show the need for an overhaul of the early years system in England. It details how too many children, particularly those growing up in disadvantaged families, are already behind by the time they start formal education. Last year, 29% of five- year-olds in England were not at the expected level of development by the time they started school, including 45% of children receiving Free School Meals. In Middlesbrough, 38% of children are not achieving the expected level of development aged 5, while in Dudley and Sandwell it is 35% of children.
The Children’s Commissioner is calling for a compulsory home education register, stronger measures to tackle ‘off-rolling’, more support for families who home educate, a greater oversight of home schooled children and decisive action against unregistered schools. Later this year, the Children’s Commissioner’s Office will also collect data from all councils in England and publish it, school by school, identifying which schools have high numbers of children being withdrawn into home education which may suggest practices of off-rolling.