Rise in number of children slipping through mainstream education net

The number of children ‘missing from school’ in Essex since the COVID-19 pandemic began is almost double compared to three years ago.

Figures from Essex County Council (ECC) show that for the 2020/21 year – up until June 17 – there were 1,444 children missing from education.

Further children may be reported as missing from education and some of those recorded as children missing from education may be located.

In 2017/2018 there were 869.

But the numbers are down from 2018/2019 when 1,509 were recorded as missing from education – yet up from 2019/2020 when 1,399 children were recorded as missing from education.

The Local Government Association (LGA) says that gaps in the coordination of policies and guidance round pupil registration, attendance, admissions, exclusions and non-school education is allowing children to slip through the net.

It suggests that children with additional vulnerabilities – such as social, behavioural, medical or mental health needs – are most at risk of doing so.

The LGA says that not only is this putting pupils at risk of slower progress in learning and poorer job prospects, but also likely to lead to poorer mental health and emotional wellbeing, restricted social and emotional development and increased vulnerability to safeguarding issues, such as domestic abuse, grooming and criminal exploitation, such as county lines drug activities.

Those not receiving a formal full-time education might be routinely not attending school all day or every day; at home receiving tuition or none at all; in an unregistered or illegal school; or unknown to children’s services, reports the LGA. It adds a growing proportion of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) may be out of formal, full-time education.

Soaring numbers of parents are choosing to educate their children at home not just as a result of the pandemic, but also due to anxiety experienced by their child including exam pressures and social media bullying.

There has also been an increase in the number of parents taking their child out of mainstream schooling in order to avoid council action – including fines for their child’s non-attendance or if the school raised concerns with children’s services about the wellbeing of a child.

The impact of COVID-19 has been acknowledged by ECC which has announced it will invest £1 million in reading over the next 18 months. This is to support children and young people affected by the loss of learning and missed opportunities during the pandemic.

A new campaign – Essex Year of Reading 2022 – is striving to ensure that every Essex child leaves school able to read at their age level or better.  The investment is part of ambitious plans to address the short- and long-term impact of COVID-19 on children and young people’s education.

In addition, a task force plans to invest £500,000 into mental health and emotional wellbeing support.

Councillor Tony Ball, ECC’s cabinet member for education excellence, skills and training, said: “Investing £1 million to improve and promote reading from early years through to schools and into further education, demonstrates the level of our commitment to children and young people across Essex.

“It has been an incredibly difficult year for them and this additional support will help them to thrive and support education colleagues to enable them to do so.

“We want the county to be at the forefront of shaping education policy and achieving bright futures for all pupils, and are confident that our plans will help to make this a reality.”


Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter