The government will amend the school admissions code to “accelerate” the process of moving vulnerable children between schools, Damian Hinds has announced today.
The education secretary told an event organised by the Reform think tank today that it was “very, very important” for so-called children in need to be in school to help them avoid falling prey to criminal or sexual exploitation.
Children in need are those who are not in care but still require the services of a social worker. Government data suggests 1.6 million children needed a social worker between 2012-13 and 2017-18. This is equivalent to one in 10 of all children in 2018 needing a social worker at some point in the past six years.
The Department for Education has today responded to its own review of children in need, which sets out four key areas that it plans to address, and confirmed changes to the admissions code.
The four areas include ensuring there is better “visibility” of the number of children in need, including ensuring schools are aware to the size of their cohort and improving information sharing between social care and schools, and encouraging cross-agency cooperation to ensure children in need remain in education.
It also plans to share evidence of best practice with schools, acknowledging that children in need require “a wider system of specialist support in and around schools”, and ensuring schools maintaining “high aspiration” for children in need rather than expecting “less of them”.
However, the children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, has criticised the “absolute paralysis” in government action caused by Brexit and questioned how any proposed changes will be funded.
“While the Westminster manoeuvring continues, on and on interminably, government itself has ground almost to a halt and the prospects for many of these kids remains wretched,” she said.
“Soon we will have the third prime minister of my tenure as children’s commissioner. More departmental upheaval could follow, and the chance to get a grip of tackling childhood vulnerability delayed again.”
Hinds’ speech today is expected to be one of his last before he is moved from the role of education secretary under a new prime minister.
He said: “We are going to do a couple of things including changing the admissions code so that when a child in need has to move school, so for example in the case of domestic abuse this would be not uncommon that you have to move to a new school quickly, we are going to change the admissions code to accelerate that process.
”And if one of these children is excluded from school, and we would hope that is reduced, but if they do have to be excluded from school, we will make sure that their social worker is informed.”
Hinds also used his speech to discuss social mobility and the barriers the government must overcome in tackling it. He spoke at length about his concern over absences, and particularly “hyper-persistent absences” – pupils who miss half of their education.
”It probably isn’t a threat surprise to you to hear that children in need are considerably more likely to be persistently absent from school than other children,” he said.
”And being in school is a key protective factor. Not just about what you’re learning but the very fact of being there in school and being around other trusted adults is very, very important for these children and helping to reduce the likelihood of them falling prey to criminal or sexual exploitation.”