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When I became Children’s Commissioner, one of the first things I did was to conduct a nationwide inquiry into the educational experiences of children leaving state education. These children had fallen off the radar during the pandemic. Local authorities confided that they did not know where they had gone or how to support them to reengage in education.

Three years on and we have still not shifted the dial on this issue. Thousands of children, still of compulsory school age, continue to leave state schools each year. Many have started to disengage, and some have left the school system altogether.

This report shines new light on the vulnerabilities of children who left the state education system last year. For the first time ever, we have been able to examine the destinations, pupil characteristics and educational histories of children who left state education.

We have found that over 10,000 children left the state education system to destinations unknown to their local authorities. Despite questions from my office, local authorities were unable to confirm that they were safe and in education. These children’s whereabouts are unknown: they have fallen through the cracks of our education system.

Around 13,000 left the state education system for home education. My office heard that the number of children in home education has been growing steadily and that many parents opting for home education are not doing so through choice. These children were disproportionately more likely to have special educational needs or to come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

My office’s research shows that the recent exodus to home education is clearly linked to rising absenteeism rates. Over 80% of all children who moved into home education were persistently or severely absent in the previous year. All of this shows that we must do more to tackle the root causes of absenteeism and give children the support they need to engage and thrive in school.

And nearly 3,000 children became a child missing education. These children were much more likely to have come from deprived neighbourhoods and to be known to social care. Local authorities told my office that they were worried about this group of children and did not have sufficient resources or powers to identify and support these children to return to school.

As Children’s Commissioner, I am determined to use my role to make the right to education a reality for all children. Wherever they grow up, whatever their background, every child deserves a world class education which is as ambitious for them, as they are for themselves. We must go much further to ensure that our school system lives up to this principle.

This report charts the way towards a reformed education system, with inclusion at its heart. We must all work together to create a school system which enables every child to reach their potential.