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More than 10,000 pupils ‘fall through the cracks’ – de Souza

More than 10,000 pupils have “fallen through the cracks” after leaving state education in England, a report from the children’s commissioner has found.

Dame Rachel de Souza said local authorities had no idea what has happened to 10,181 children who left state schools between spring 2022 and last spring. And 2,868 were known or suspected to be missing education completely.

A further 13,120 children left the education system to learn at home, and these were “disproportionately more likely to have special educational needs or to come from disadvantaged areas”.

The research has prompted a list of wide-ranging recommendations aimed at making the school system more inclusive, including better training for teachers on SEND and mental health, putting councils in charge of all schools’ admissions and a register of alternative provision.

It also calls for a ban on home education for any looked-after child identified at risk of harm in the home and a beefing up of Ofsted inspections to look more closely at attendance.

It comes after Schools Week revealed this week how the rate at which children left the classroom for home education doubled last year, with big increases in some of the country’s most deprived areas.

Our analysis of council freedom of information data suggests there were around 140,000 children in home education at some point in the 2022-23 academic year, up 12 per cent from 125,000 the previous year.

‘Deeply concerned’

Two years ago, de Souza called for wide-ranging reforms to the way data on pupils is collected and shared, after finding most councils did not know how many pupils were missing out on education in their areas.

Now, new analysis by her office of government data has found 81,940 children of compulsory school age who were on a school roll or in alternative provision in the spring census in 2022, but did not appear on the following year’s census.

As well as home education, destinations of some of these children included moving abroad, going to an independent school and attending an unregistered setting.

de Souza said she was “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.”

Her report also found 82 per cent of children who left state education for home education had been either persistently or severely absent the previous year. Twenty-six per cent had been severely absent, compared to 1.7 per cent of all pupils.

Sixty-four per cent of those who went into home education lived in the more deprived half of neighbourhoods, and 25 per cent had SEN support. Children known to social care were also more likely to become a child missing education.

The recommendations include…

  • Introduce family liaison officers for all schools and train up existing officers
  • Introduce a register of all unregistered alternative provision with clear minimum standards and mechanisms for quality assurance
  • Issue guidance for schools about how to create internal alternative provision
  • All schools should publish a mental health and wellbeing policy online
  • Mental health first training for all teachers to spot the early signs of common mental health issues
  • Expedite the rollout of mental health support teams to all children by 2025
  • Make counsellors available to every school
  • Assign key workers to children on CAMHS waiting lists and those receiving support but disengaging from school
  • Update the early career framework with training on SEND
  • Give LAs and MATs powers to open special schools in addition to the current free school wave
  • Make LAs with a average EHCP waiting time over 20 weeks to publish a plan to reduce it
  • Ofsted should look at how schools deregister children as part of inspecting safeguarding
  • Make LAs admissions authorities for all schools
  • Introduce a children not in school register and a consistent unique identifier for all children
  • Train social workers in ‘educational neglect’ and treat regular school attendance as a key outcome for children with history absenteeism
  • Give virtual school heads powers to direct admissions for children in need
  • Ban home education for any child with a social worker who has been identified as at risk of harm in the home or where home education would expose them to additional harms
  • Ofsted should revise its SEND inspector framework to include attendance as an evaluation criterion
  • Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission should conduct a joint targeted area inspection on school attendance and children missing education

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