Thousands of 'hidden children' missing from education

A leading children's charity is calling on the Government to take urgent action to help identify and support the thousands of children who drop out of education, often for months or years at a time. The National Children's Bureau (NCB) is expressing concern for children who, off the radar of schools and other services, can be at considerable risk of harm.

Despite the duty on local authorities to provide education to every child, says NCB, significant numbers drop off the school roll and do not receive an education at home either. Many others are still technically enrolled in a school, but are not accessing a fulltime curriculum.

Children missing education are often vulnerable – many have tough family circumstances and may have special educational needs too. Missing school further undermines their future education and employment prospects and, worryingly, it also deprives them of a protective environment, meaning they're more at risk of falling into crime, or suffering abuse or exploitation.

Through in-depth interviews with children, young people and their families, as well as focus groups with professionals, the NCB has uncovered how problems like being bullied at school, suffering challenges at home, and having special educational needs, can often combine to cause a child to miss out on education, often for substantial periods of time.

Children who miss education often face multiple challenges, ranging from special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and mental health issues, to neglect and domestic violence. 'Cash-strapped schools and local authorities must have the resources they need to help vulnerable children stay in school and help them return when they're ready.

The report calls for:

  • A wider definition of "children missing education", to include those technically on a school roll but who are not accessing full-time education (including where they've been illegally excluded).
  • Resources for schools and local authorities to identify children at risk of dropping out and to help them to return.
  • Better data collection at local and national level and clear duties to share information between agencies to make sure children are getting the support they need.

Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children's Bureau said: 'It's unacceptable that tens of thousands of children in England can't access their fundamental right to an education. These children are often living on the margins, disengaged with school and invisible to other services. They are often very vulnerable. Away from the safety and security of school they're more at risk of abuse and exploitation, taking part in criminal activity, and missing out on support for special educational needs and mental health problems.

"Education is the key to a child’s future. National Government must lead the way so that all children get the right support to learn."