Children’s Commissioner for England turns the spotlight on the most vulnerable children missing from education, part of her work to urgently improve school attendance
25th May 2023: Vulnerable children in care are missing from school and at risk of becoming ‘invisible’ to the services there to support them, without any of the vital opportunities education provides.
Unique new research published today in a report by the Children’s Commissioner for England shows hundreds of looked after children – those who are in the care of local authorities who are deemed their ‘corporate parent’ – are not getting any form of education at all, despite the importance of school as an additional layer of protection for them.
Using data collected from 149 of the 152 local authorities in England under the Children’s Commissioner’s statutory powers, the research reveals for the first time that, of the 50,846 school-age children who had been in care for at least four weeks in March 2022, 1,363 (2.7%) were missing from school.
Of these children:
- 541 were not enrolled with any school or education provider at all;
- 673 were in unregistered settings, such as private tuition, home education or a patchwork of other provision that is not inspected; and
- 149 were enrolled in a school but missing without authorisation 100% of the time.
Children’s Commissioner for England Dame Rachel de Souza said:
“Making sure children in care are in school in every day and getting the education they are owed by law is the absolute minimum I expect from local authorities, as their ‘corporate parents’. They should be advocating for these children just as any other parent would, as their first and best champion.
“The attendance of these children needs to be at the top of every policymaker’s agenda – we cannot wait until they leave care to start trying to transform their outcomes. It starts with education.
“These are not big numbers, which makes it all the more shocking that we are allowing children in care to be failed like this, becoming invisible to many of the services designed to support them. These are children for whom being in school is a protective measure and the chance to build positive, caring relationships.”
Some groups of children with additional needs or vulnerabilities were more likely to be missing from school, including unaccompanied children seeking asylum, those with special education needs or those who were either in semi-independent accommodation or moving between multiple care placements.
The new figures show:
- 21% of school-age unaccompanied children seeking asylum (UCSA) were not in school (291 out of 1,408 total);
- 68% of looked after children not in school are male;
- 3.9% of looked after children with an Education, Health and Care Plan were not in school;
- Looked after children living in care placements outside of their home local authority were more likely to missing school, as were those living in fully or semi-independent accommodation, and those without stability in their care placement – even more than one care placement in the year led to a higher-than-average rate of not being in school;
- Conversely, children in foster care were less likely to not be in school;
- 10.1% of looked after children who had previously attended a state-funded alternative provision were not in school, compared to only 1.5% for state-funded mainstream schools and 3.6% for state-funded special schools; and
- 5.1% of looked after children who had previously attended a school rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted were missing education, compared to only 1.9% for ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools.
The government has already committed to measures aimed at improving school attendance, including through the work of its Attendance Action Alliance, of which the Children’s Commissioner is a member.
She has now set out a series of recommendations that will build on that work and tackle the urgent issue of getting vulnerable children – many of whom have faced significant trauma or mental health issues – into high quality education and in front of professionals trained to support them.