Children Missing Education: New Statutory Guidance for Schools

At the beginning of the new academic year schools had new guidance from the Department for Education to adhere to regarding young people missing education. These are not the children who are truanting, but those of school age who are not registered as pupils at a school or receiving their education elsewhere. It gives guidance to other professionals, health professionals, Police and youth offending teams as well as school senior management teams and governors.

The guidance is to facilitate local authorities in their duty to identify this group of young people by ensuring schools provide ‘regular and accurate’ details about young people being removed from or added to their admissions register.

There have been concerns and identified links between CSE and young people who are not in education. The concern being that young people and possibly parents are being groomed to remove the young people from schools or stop attending, or young people are encouraged to engineer their exclusion through their behaviour; in order that they are more readily available to be exploited during the day, not just outside school hours, or so their exploitation late into the night is not readily recognised within schools. The guidance itself refers to the risks to these pupils of harm, exploitation and radicalisation, as well as the impact on their education and potential for NEET status.

These changes have come about following Ofsted raised safeguarding concerns following targeted inspections where they found a significant number of pupils had been removed from school registers without the local authority being notified and with no knowledge of where they were intending to be schooled. As a result of these concerns the government conducted a consultation on the issue to inform the new guidance.

Schools have always had a safeguarding duty towards all of their pupils and as such should ensure they investigate unexplained absences and recognise any patterns of truancy or absence, this guidance deals with those investigations that find pupils are not returning to the school. Similarly local authorities have a duty under The Education Act 1996 (sect 435) to ‘make arrangements to enable them to establish the identities of children in the area who are not receiving a suitable education; the Act also gives the requirement of monitoring those not receiving an education, including those new to the area or country. The new guidance gives suggested tools for them to ensure they have the data to fulfil these requirements.

Local authorities should now have policies and procedures in place to ensure they gather the right data, have a named person with whom schools should share the information, follow up and track young people into new education placements and investigate when they are not in education.

This guidance highlights and reiterates the need for secure and robust information sharing across the range of partner agencies not just schools; Health, housing, youth services (where they still exist) and voluntary sector agencies may all hold important details about young people, even young people the local authority is not yet aware is residing in their area and are not in any form of education. These agencies should also be consulted as part of investigations the authority makes about young people missing education and their circumstances. Accordingly, there is a need for the authority to ensure all partners understand the information reporting processes, where they sit in safeguarding procedures and be clear who needs to know what and when.

Even when we know who these young people are that are missing education we need to understand the circumstances that have created the situation, use professional curiosity to look behind the reasons given, be clear who has made the decision and ensure that any decisions were made by free choice and not a result of a grooming process, coercion or threats of violence, emotional or financial harm or as a condition of other support they perceive being offered, and that they are not being used to keep the young person out of education to facilitate their exploitation.

This new guidance arrived at the same time as other updated guidance in Keeping Children Safe in Education which highlights and strengthens understanding around safeguarding issues. Here changes include that it does not need to be the Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) who makes a report of concerns of an immediate nature, highlighting that all teachers have a duty to report if they think Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been performed on a pupil, an emphasis on understanding the complexity of abuse and the interlinking of abuse, neglect and other safeguarding issues, and specifically highlights peer on peer abuse including bullying and cyber-bullying, sexual violence and sexting. Part two also states that schools should have online safety taught in appropriate lessons, have sexting included in it’s policies, recognise the increased vulnerability of young people with Special education Needs (SEN), and have a named teacher to oversee the education of looked after children (LAC)

With the two sets of guidance all schools, maintained schools, academies and independent schools, and college providers will have to make some adjustments but more importantly should now have a renewed and targeted understanding of the safeguarding risks their students face and the responsibilities as education providers they have in the multi-agency framework to protect and support them from these threats.