Our Safeguarding Manager, Daniel Jarrett, writes about children missing from education and how to best support them. He also outlines a case study from his own experience.
Children Missing from Education (CME) are defined by the Department for Education (DFE) as “a child of compulsory school age who is not on a school roll, nor being educated otherwise (e.g. privately or in alternative provision) and who has been out of any educational provision for a substantial period of time (usually four weeks or more)”, It’s important to note that CME should not be confused with those children being home-educated (Elective Home Education), children who are waiting for a school place to be allocated, or those who are on roll at school but have poor attendance. Local authorities are duty bound to establish which children residing in their authority are missing education and to investigate the reasons for this appropriately.
A report published by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) in January 2018 investigated the prevalence of CME in the UK as well as the reasons, risks, and lessons to learn surrounding CME. The report was based on a freedom of information request undertaken in October 2017 to all local authorities asking for the numbers of CME and how many of these were known to CYPS or would be eligible for free school meals. The results showed that there was a potential link between CME, poverty, and involvement with social services (however, it is also important to note that not all local authorities recorded this data):
● 15% of CME were known to social services
● The percentage of CME eligible for free school meals was 9% higher than average
The data provided by 136 local authorities from 2016 / 2017 showed an alarming number of CME: 49,187 children were reported as missing education at some period in 2016/17. The report by the NCB also investigated some of the reasons for children missing education. They found that there was not always one reason but that multiple and complex vulnerabilities contributed to a child missing education. These included:
● Child’s feelings and preferences (e.g. mental ill-health, trauma)
● Problems in the family and home (e.g. domestic violence)
● School environment (e.g. special educational needs (SEN), bullying)
● Wider systems (e.g. moving to / from another local authority or abroad).
The report also found that particular groups of children were at higher risk of missing education, including frequent movers, Roma, children with disabilities, teenage mothers, young carers, and young offenders.
Children and young people who are missing from education are at a much greater risk of abuse and exploitation including gang affiliation, sexual exploitation, and radicalisation.
Tomas and Laura were both of secondary school age ( 14 and 15 respectively) when they were referred for family support. This was as a result of Tomas being involved in offending behaviour with a group of elder boys in his community. There were also historical reports of family transience and both children reported by neighbours to be staying out late and of loud arguments taking place.
Upon meeting the family for the first time, it became quickly apparent that neither child were on school roll. Language barriers made it difficult in the first visit to establish the exact reasons, but it seemed that the family had moved in and out of various boroughs of London and the authorities had found it difficult to track them as a result. They had last been on roll at a school 18 months previously. The family’s level of English was limited and this also contributed to them not understanding procedures and application forms. I immediately established contact with the local CME department and filed reports on both children.
Alongside an interpreter at the next home-visit, I spoke to the family about the importance of both children being on school roll and having a safe space to receive education, meet friends, and establish routine. I supported the family in quickly completing two school application forms as this was the initial priority.
While the applications were proceeding, I discussed the initial concerns of offending behaviour and safety in the community with the family. Both parents worked throughout the day, so Tomas and Laura had been left alone for long periods of time and had both become involved with older peers in their community who were having a poor influence on their behaviour and safety. The parents were not aware of their children’s friends and there were no boundaries for when Tomas and Laura should return home in the evening.
School places were going to take several weeks to arrange so, in the meantime, I arranged for Tomas and Laura to attend some local groups (Volunteer Police Cadets, football, swimming, etc) to have constructive activities in the day and meet positive peers. I also sat down with mum and dad and encouraged them to try and reorganise their work patterns so one of them could be at home during the day / evening to monitor Tomas and Laura and provide structure and routine. Both parents were also referred to local ESOl groups and a parenting group for teens was sourced.
Within 3 weeks, school places were found for Tomas and Laura, uniforms were bought, and a routine established for their first few weeks to ensure that they were on time and completing homework as needed. Tomas and Laura settled in relatively quickly to school and, through support from staff, places in after-school groups were found for them to further enhance their peer groups.
Through structure at school and home, the risky behaviour of Tomas and Laura improved quickly and they removed themselves from the peer groups that were
influencing their poor behaviour. Structure at home was also established and mum and dad felt more confident in installing boundaries as well. Mum and dad’s English skills continued to improve at the point of case closure and they felt more confident in understanding communication from school and the local authority.
As mentioned early, and as evidenced in the case study, there are a range of safeguarding concerns for children missing from education and these are often more difficult to spot if the child is not in school. It’s vital that if you think a child is missing education, then they are reported to your local authority’s CME department so the correct support and guidance can be provided to families.
School not only provides children with education but a safe space for meeting friends, building routine, and staying away from negative pressures in the community.
Department for Education: Statutory Guidance for local authorities and advice for other groups on helping children who are missing education get back into it.
National Children’s Bureau
A UK charity working with children and families, policy-makers and practitioners to research, innovate and establish best practice across the children’s sector.