Almost 50,000 children were recorded as “missing” from education last year, according to new research by the National Children’s Bureau.
Data obtained by the NCB under the Freedom of Information Act shows 49,187 children were recorded as missing from education at some point during 2016/17, meaning they were not registered at a school or receiving suitable education elsewhere.
Of those recorded missing, 15 per cent were known to social services. The national average for children known to social workers is 5.5 per cent. Twenty-two per cent were eligible for free school meals when last attending school, compared to 13 per cent of all children in the same local authorities, but the NCB added that not all councils were able to provide this information.
The findings have prompted calls for a clearer way to identify pupils who aren’t in school or other educational settings.
The government does not collect data on the number of children missing from education, so the NCB collated its latest data from 136 local authorities across England to arrive at its findings. However, it identified wide variation in the availability of information between areas, describing “significant gaps” in data on “vulnerable children”.
The NCB now wants the government to collect and publish a report on national data, as well as to review the variation in figures across local authorities. To make this easier, a single identifier for missing pupils should be introduced across all agencies, so they can be more easily traced.
The NCB’s chief executive Anna Feuchtwang said the findings were “alarming”, and said it was “vital” that every child is protected from harm and supported to go “back into learning”.
“The government has the opportunity now to update the statutory guidance and take action to understand and protect this vulnerable group,” she said.
In July, Schools Week reported that the number of children leaving school to be educated at home has doubled over the past six years.
Campaigners want parents to be forced to register their children as home-schooled, and the government has promised to update its guidance for councils.
A spokesperson for the DfE said councils already have a “duty to intervene” if there are safeguarding concerns, or they believe children are “not receiving a safe and suitable education”, and said schools must inform local authorities if a pupil is taken off their register.