SFE Adviser, Lucie Welch, discusses children missing in education and the safeguarding risks presented, whether these are children not on roll at all or those who are persistently absent.
In the 2021-2022 academic year, local authorities in the UK identified an estimated 94,900 children missing education. These are not children with poor or no attendance, but children who are not registered at school or otherwise receiving suitable education, and therefore children who run the risk of slipping through the net- both academically and from a safeguarding point of view.
The law in the United Kingdom entitles every child of compulsory school age to an effective, full-time education suitable to their age, aptitude, and any special educational need they may have. It is the legal responsibility of every parent to make sure their child receives that education either by attendance at a school or by education otherwise than at a school.
Where parents decide to register their child at school, they have an additional legal duty to ensure their child attends regularly but what about those who are never registered in the first instance?
Who are these children?
There is no specific reason why some children are not registered or do not attend school, but there are different circumstances that can contribute to these children never being signed or leaving school indefinitely once they have started.
- Homelessness, unstable housing or housing mobility: Children from families experiencing homelessness or frequent moves might have difficulty accessing school regularly.
- Poverty: Low-income families may face challenges in providing the necessary school supplies or uniforms, and this can hinder a child’s registration.
- Language or educational barriers: Children from families with limited English proficiency or who have parents with learning difficulties may face difficulties in navigating the school system or may not be aware of their registration options.
- Undocumented or Asylum-seeking families: Families with uncertain immigration status may fear the consequences of registering their children at school.
- Special Educational Needs: Some children with disabilities or special educational needs might face difficulties getting registered due to lack of appropriate support or resources- or of accessing space in specific provision.
- Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller Communities: These communities sometimes face cultural barriers and discrimination, which can affect school registration rates.
- Minority Ethnic Groups: Certain ethnic minority groups may experience social and cultural barriers that impact school registration.
- Parental Attitudes: In some cases, parents’ beliefs or attitudes towards education might deter them from registering their children at school.
- Lack of Awareness: Some families might not be aware of the importance of education or the registration process, especially if they are new to the country.
What do we know?
In January 2022, the Children’s Commissioner’s team conducted a survey of all local authorities (LAs) in England to understand the national scale of children who were not attending school regularly, and those who were missing from education altogether.
This survey asked questions, elicited the voice of the children and spoke to different agencies across the country, trying to create a national picture and gain a better understanding of why children are missing education and what can be done.
Amongst the findings, a truly staggering fact noted, was that across the 151 Local Authorities in England, not one could account for the true number of children not in registered education, which is a scary statistic.
This fact means that there could be thousands of children living in England who have had no contact with public services and who may not have had any type of education provision. Without this connection with schools or public services, children can fall under the radar when it comes to safeguarding or may be unable to access required support when they need it most.
These children also miss out on learning key skills which will set them up for adulthood and allow them to thrive.
What are the risks?
Children missing education, can face a variety of significant risks to their well-being, their development, and their future prospects. Some of those risks include:
Educational disadvantage: Lack of access to formal education can hinder a child’s learning and cognitive development. Children will lack key knowledge and skills, making it harder for them to catch up later in life.
Social and Emotional development: School provides an essential environment for children to make friends, interact with others and develop social skills. Without this interaction, they may struggle with communication and emotional intelligence as they grow up.
Limited opportunities: Education is a pathway to various opportunities in life. Without proper schooling, children will likely have limited career choices and face difficulties in finding employment.
Cycle of poverty or abuse: Education is often a means to break the cycle of poverty or abuse. Children who do not attend school are more likely to remain trapped in poverty as adults, perpetuating the cycle to the next generation. With children not engaging with schools or other outside services, abuse will often go on unnoticed and the results of this can be fatal.
Vulnerability to Exploitation: Children who are not in school may be more susceptible to child labour, trafficking, and other forms of exploitation, particularly as they may find it more difficult to make friends or find employment when they are older.
Health and Well-being: School environments provide opportunities for health monitoring and support for physical and mental health. Without these resources, children may face health-related risks and challenges.
Increased Criminality: Without positive activities and structured learning environments, children may be at a higher risk of engaging in delinquent behaviour and criminal activities.
Lower Life Satisfaction: Education is linked to higher life satisfaction and overall well-being. Children who are not attending school may experience lower levels of life satisfaction and will not have access to the same opportunities as their peers.
Social Exclusion: Children not attending school may feel excluded from their peer group and society, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
What can be done?
Addressing the issue of children missing out on education requires a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach involving all stakeholders, including local authorities, communities, schools, and parents.
The first thing to be done is to identify and reach out to missing children and address any barriers to access where possible. Some of these may be straightforward to overcome, whereas others may require intervention from other services. Education settings also need to look at their inclusivity, ensuring that their learning environments accommodate children with SEND- providing necessary support and resources to ensure their participation in education and other groups such as young carers.
Strong, positive relationships are essential in promoting attendance and schools should involve local communities in promoting the value of education and addressing cultural or social barriers. Developing targeted interventions for vulnerable groups, such as homeless children, refugees, or those from disadvantaged backgrounds, can support with ensuring they receive educational opportunities.
Teachers need to be offered professional development to enhance their skills in managing diverse classrooms and addressing the needs of students who are at risk of missing out on education. They should also have training on a Trauma Informed approach, as many children who have not been in school will find the transition back to education difficult.
In conclusion, addressing the issue of children missing in education is a pressing national challenge that demands immediate attention and collaborative efforts.
By understanding the consequences of education deprivation and implementing targeted interventions, we can pave the way for a more equitable and inclusive society, where every child has the opportunity to thrive through the power of education.
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About the Author
Lucie Welch – Adviser, Services For Education
Lucie Welch taught in primary schools for over 13 years, holding the roles of Assistant Head of School, Designated Safeguarding Lead, Designated Teacher for Looked After Children, Attendance Lead as well as many subject lead roles.
Through the role of DSL, Lucie has garnered huge experience and knowledge of safeguarding which she is passionate about sharing with schools both across Birmingham and nationwide. With a strong understanding of policies and procedures, as well as safeguarding in schools at a day-to-day operational level, Lucie can provide bespoke consultancy and training on a host of safeguarding related topics.
Lucie also leads on PSHE and RSE and has a focused interest in children's emotional health and wellbeing, understanding how trauma and adverse childhood experiences can impact children, as well as educating staff and pupils on Sexual Violence, Sexual Harassment and Harmful Sexual Behaviour in schools.
Lucie is also a part of our Health for Life team and helps deliver the Early Career Framework on behalf of the Best Practice Network.
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