County council told aspects of keeping children engaged in school ‘not good enough’

Essex County Council has been told to be frank with itself that aspects of keeping children engaged in education is “not good enough” as figures show a rise in the number of children missing from education.

In March 2019 Essex County Council determined there were 245 pupils deemed as children missing education. As at December 31 2022 330 children were listed as missing education. That’s a 35 per cent increase.

Research suggests the impact of children missing education leads to worse prospects for future employment, poorer mental health and emotional wellbeing, restricted social and emotional development and increased vulnerability to safeguarding issues and criminal exploitation.

In recent years, Essex has seen a significant increase in the number of children and young people who are listed as being in receipt of elective home education (EHE). In March 2022 there were 2,445 children. As of March 2023 there were 2,801.

However, Councillor Delyth Miles said Essex County Council needed to admit there were shortfallings in children disengaging from schooling.

She said at the Community Leadership Overview and Scrutiny Committee on March 7: “We’ve really got to capture these people. We’ve got to find a way of not letting them fall through the net and you know I would be looking to Essex County Council Education Authority or whatever school these days to be looking at making sure that those numbers are as low as possible.

“Because we shouldn’t be losing young people because they’re disinterested or their families are disinterested in them.

“We really have got to address this problem because it helps long-term society.”

She added a girl in her ward being offered 30 minutes a day after being suspended from school was “inadequate”.

She added: “I don’t consider that to be adequate. For me scrutiny is about celebrating excellence and using it as an example of how things can be done differently but for me scrutiny is also about addressing things we know on the ground that are really happening in our own communities.

“And this is what I want Essex – because it’s my local authority -to really address and acknowledge. This is happening and it’s not good enough and it will take more money or whatever or more Innovative things.”

Michael O’Brien. head of Specialist Education Service said: “That young person would come under my responsibility and I’m hoping that she will be have been assessed and the most suitable provision available to her is put in place. If that is deemed only to be an hour I’m hoping that is because that is what is the right provision for that young person.”

Anita Patel-Lingam, statutory education compliance manager at Essex County Council said every school when they deregister a child is statutorily required to submit a notification to the local authority.

She said: “Where children and young people aren’t attending school regularly and where they don’t appear to be any valid reasons for that absence there is obviously the statutory function that the local authority plays in responding to schools’ requests to either issue penalty notices or to look at prosecuting families. But we will only do that if we can see that schools have tried everything.”

The Working Together to Improve School Attendance document published last year is non-statutory guidance from the Department for Education to help schools, trusts, governing bodies, and local authorities maintain high levels of school attendance.

She added: “It is a fantastic document that we as a local authority are working towards making sure that we’re working really well against in terms of bringing together all the key services.

“That’s education alongside social care alongside health colleagues to identify those children and young people who maybe are struggling with their attendance at school for one reason or another and to work together to remove any of the barriers that might be preventing that regular attendance.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter