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Safeguarding children in education: children missing education

All children, regardless of age, ability or special educational needs, are entitled to an appropriate and full-time education. However, there are many factors in the life of a child or that of their family that can affect school attendance.

Children missing education (CME) is defined as those who are of a compulsory school age, but are either not registered at a school or else not receiving suitable education in place of a school setting.

CME may be at a significant risk of:

  • not meeting their academic potential and underachieving
  • becoming NEET (not in employment, education or training) in later life
  • being victims of harm, abuse or exploitation
  • involvement in criminal or gang-related activity.

There is also a higher proportion of children recorded as missing education when there is a link to poverty, deprivation or involvement with social services.

For schools, their governing bodies and academy trusts, understanding the factors that affect CME and the roles and responsibilities of professionals is important for ensuring the best outcomes for children and young people.

Children especially at risk of missing education

There may be many reasons for a child missing education and so it is important for professionals to consider the circumstances of individual cases. However, some factors may place a child at higher risk and should be considered in the planning of preventative monitoring and support by schools:

  • children at risk of abuse or neglect
  • children of Gypsy, Roma or Traveller (GRT) families
  • children of service personnel
  • children who go missing or run away from home or care
  • children who are supervised by the Youth Justice System
  • children of new migrant families

Roles and responsibilities

Parents have a responsibility to:

  • ensure that their children, of school age, are receiving a suitable full-time education
  • notify a school where a decision is made to home-educate a child
  • if home educating a child with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan, provide suitable education that meets the special educational needs of the child.

Schools have a responsibility to:

  • follow their safeguarding duty in promoting the welfare of children and investigating any unexplained absences
  • maintain an accurate register of student admissions and enter students onto it on the date agreed for them to attend the school
  • notify the local authority within five days of adding a child’s name to the admission register and provide the information held on the register about the child
  • where a child fails to attend school on the agreed date, make reasonable enquiries to establish the whereabouts of the child and consider notifying the local authority
  • monitor student attendance through daily registers and take steps to address poor attendance
  • inform the local authority of any students that fail to attend school regularly, or miss 10 school days or more without permission
  • remove a child from the admission register where they have not returned to school after 10 days following an authorised absence, or is absent for 20 consecutive days without authorisation and reasonable joint enquiries between the school and local authority have failed to establish the child’s whereabouts
  • inform the local authority when a child’s name is going to be removed from the admission register for any of the grounds set-out in Regulation 8 of the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations (2006)
  • arrange full-time education for students who are excluded, from the sixth day of fixed-term exclusion.

Local authorities have a responsibility to:

  • have arrangements in place to be able to identify children in the area who are not registered at a school or being otherwise suitably educated
  • act promptly to support a child who is not in suitable education to return to full-time education or access an alternative provision
  • appoint a person whom schools and other agencies can contact to make a referral about a child who is missing education
  • consider the reasons for CME and how to promote effective safeguarding of children
  • have arrangements for sharing information with other agencies to ensure effective joint working and contribute to wider work designed to improve outcomes of children
  • work with schools to make reasonable joint enquiries into the whereabouts of a child who is missing from education
  • make a referral to children’s social care (and the police where it is suspected that a crime has been committed) where there is a concern for a child’s welfare.

What is a ‘reasonable enquiry’?

Reasonable procedures for schools and local authorities to check the whereabouts of a child missing from education may include:

  • contact parents, carers, relatives or neighbours
  • check local authority databases or ‘school2school’ systems
  • conduct a home visit, following appropriate risk assessment, and making enquiries with neighbours or relatives
  • contact the local authority where a child lives, if different from where the school is
  • check with other agencies involved with the child or family
  • check with UK Visas and Immigration or Border Force
  • check with the local authority or school to which a child may have moved.

Elective home education

Parents have a right, under Section 7 of the Education Act (1996), to home-educate their child, so long as it is suitable to their age, ability and needs. There are many reasons why a child may be electively home educated and may include ideological preferences, health or mental health reasons or previous negative school experiences.

Parents should notify the school when they are choosing to home-educate their child. This should normally be in writing and the school must delete the child’s name from the admission register and inform the local authority. Where a school is notified verbally, they must still inform the local authority at the earliest opportunity. Parents are not required to provide a reason for the decision to home educate.

Powers of the local authority

To support CME efforts, the local authority will have certain additional duties and responsibilities.

These include:

  • arranging full-time education for children who are permanently excluded from school after the sixth day of exclusion
  • cooperating with other agencies to improve wellbeing and protect from harm and neglect
  • requiring parents to provide evidence that a child is being suitably educated, where it is suspected that they are not and issuing School Attendance Orders (SAOs) to parents who fail to provide this assurance
  • prosecuting or issuing penalty notices and fines to parents who fail to ensure good school attendance
  • applying for an Education Supervision Order for a child in order to support them to go to school.

Support from SCIE

Safeguarding in Education: SCIE Support

SCIE’s knowledge and experience of safeguarding means that we are well placed to support your organisation on your safeguarding journey.

Our collaborative approach provides organisations with the tools to learn from safeguarding incidents and put in place the right measures to improve safeguarding in the future.

Drawing on extensive experience of using our  Learning Together approach, we conduct audit, independent incident reviews and consultancy with multi-academy trusts and schools to improve safeguarding provision and governance.

Work with SCIE

  • SCIE has worked with a range of schools, trusts and education organisations and has developed a deep understanding of the context, sensitivities, issues and concerns relating to safeguarding
  • SCIE knows that safeguarding applies to both children and adults, but also to the site and health and safety provisions in place
  • Co-production is fundamental to what we do and we understand the importance of involving children, families, staff and others that use services in that safeguarding journey
  • SCIE works with education organisations to support them through tailored programmes of learning and development and audit and review. We can work with your organisation to embed good safeguarding practice through
    • developing and updating policies and procedures that reflect latest legislation, learning, good practice and your context;
    • Learning Together, a systems-based approach to support with audit, review and consultancy;
    • CPD-accredited, tailored classroom and e-learning courses for staff and designated safeguarding leads;
    • free online resources for safeguarding children and adults.

Further reading