In July, I submitted evidence to the Department for Education about how we can better support children missing from education. Since starting in this role, I have made it my mission to ensure that every child is in school, ready to learn, every single day.
Every child has a right to an education and yet every day there are thousands of children across the country who are not in school, do not attend regularly, and are denied the support they need to engage with learning. Far too little is known about who these children are or how to help them.
Earlier this year, my office found out that in March 2022 that 1,363 looked after children (2.7%) were missing from school. Children who are looked after are disproportionately more likely to not be in school. This research showed that unaccompanied children seeking asylum, male children, older children, children with special educational needs, and children without stable care placements were more likely to be missing.
We found that children missing education are either not on any school roll, in some form of education but it’s not formal or registered, or on a school roll but not attending. Once they are cast to the peripheries of our education system, they often remain locked out and denied the education which is their right.
We cannot allow this to continue. It is our duty to ensure that all children can access a great school place, which is tailored to meet their needs. My report set out a bold plan for reform which, if implemented, would help to get this group of vulnerable children back into school.
First, we must make it clear what “children missing education” means. This is a term which is defined differently from one place to the next. This confusion leads to some children falling through the gaps.
Local authorities need to be equipped to identify these children when they start to miss education. The government must urgently introduce its Children Not in School register and strengthen the regulation around unregistered AP, to achieve this aim.
However, we should not aim to build a system which only picks up the pieces once children go missing. We must go further. We must protect children and prevent any child from falling off the radar. I am therefore calling on government to introduce a unique national identifier for children, to ensure no child is left invisible.
Often, when children are missing from education, they are known to one other organisation responsible for safeguarding, but no individual has all the information they need to keep that child safe. A unique identifier would allow agencies to share information seamlessly and to prevent children from dropping out of the education system.
While the road to no more children missing education may be complex to navigate at times, I firmly believe that we can reach the end – where all children are able to access their right to education.