Thousands of children left state education to destinations ‘unknown’ to councils

More than 10,000 children in England left the state education system in a single year to destinations unknown to local authorities, a report from the Children’s Commissioner has found.

Dame Rachel de Souza said she was “deeply concerned” by the figures showing that thousands had fallen “through the cracks” of the system.

Local authorities in England do not know what has happened to an estimated 10,181 children who left the state education system between spring 2021/22 and spring 2022/23, the analysis has suggested.

It found an estimated 13,120 children left the state education system and entered elective home education (EHE).

Parents interviewed said this was often a “forced choice” influenced by shortcomings in support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send).

Children who left state education to be home educated were disproportionately more likely to have Send or to live in disadvantaged areas, according to the analysis.

Data analysis found that most of the children who left state education to go to home education were aged 11 to 14 (64%).

Most of the children who had unknown destinations were aged four to nine (54%), as were many of those known or suspected child missing education (41%).

The report called for councils to have control of the admissions for all schools so they have greater oversight of pupil movement, and for the Government to introduce family liaison officers in every school.

Dame Rachel said: “I am deeply concerned to see just how many children are falling through the cracks after leaving the state-funded education system.

“While the reasons for leaving school may vary, my report highlights that thousands of children are simply unknown to local authorities.

“Since I became Commissioner, I have made children’s education an absolute priority.

“I have spoken to thousands of children who have told me about how important school is for them, but this report shows too many young people are finding themselves out of education.”

These were children of compulsory school age who were previously recorded in either a state school or local authority commissioned alternative provider (AP) in the 2021/22 Spring censuses but who did not appear to be in a state school or local authority commissioned AP in the 2022/23 Spring censuses.

Their destinations also included moving abroad, independent schools, and unregistered settings.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “It is extremely concerning that the whereabouts of so many children are unknown to local authorities, both for their education, but also potentially their safety.

“This highlights why it is so important for the Government to get its act together and introduce its long-promised register of children who are not in school, something NAHT has long called for.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “We share the Children’s Commissioner’s concerns about the rise in home schooling and particularly the number of children who may be missing out on education entirely.

“It’s right for there to be renewed focus on mental health and children with Send. Schools do everything they can to support all of their pupils but are increasingly under-resourced to provide the specialist help required in many cases. This is likely a driving factor behind the increase in home education.”

He added: “The need for a mandatory register of children not in school is widely acknowledged and this important safeguarding measure must pass into law as soon as possible. The Government’s lack of urgency to enact this is frankly baffling.

“Such a measure would help local authorities provide appropriate oversight and support to ensure no child misses out on the education they need and deserve.”

“The LGA is calling for a register of children not in school, accompanied by powers for councils to check children are receiving a suitable education.

“We also echo the Commissioner’s calls for councils to have powers to direct admissions for all schools, including academies.”

In January, shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said a Labour government would legislate for a new register of children in home education.

Proposals to legislate for a new national register of children not in school were once part of the Conservative Government’s now-scrapped Schools Bill.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Parents have the right to educate their children at home, but all children should receive a suitable education regardless of where they are educated.

“We are continuing to work with local authorities to improve their non-statutory registers as well as supporting schools, trusts, governing bodies and local authorities to identify pupils who are at risk of becoming – or who are – persistently absent so they can receive regular and consistent education whether that be in school or at home.”

“We are also working closely with the Member of Parliament for Meon Valley (Flick Drummond) on The Children Not In School Bill which is currently progressing through parliament, and will aim to create legal duties on local authorities to maintain such registers”.

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