2.25 Children Missing Education (CME)
Every local authority will have its own policy for children missing education which sets out the local arrangements for responding to this group of children and young people. Practitioners should consult their local policy for further guidance which should be available on their local authority's website.
The definition of a child missing education is:
"A compulsory school-age child who is not on the roll of a school, not placed in alternative provision by a local authority, and who is not receiving a suitable education at home"
(DFE Revised Statutory Guidance for local authorities in England to identify children not receiving a suitable education, November 2013)
This definition includes children:
- Who are not on a school roll or being educated otherwise (e.g. privately or in alternative provision)
- Who have been out of any educational provision for a substantial period of time (less than 96% attendance or twenty consecutive school days without provision of reasonable explanation)
- Children who do not apply at the point of transfer
A child who is on roll at a school and who goes missing during the school day is not classified as 'missing education' and the procedure outlined in the guidance on children who go missing from home, care or education should be followed in these circumstances.
All children, regardless of their circumstances, are entitled to a full time education which is suitable to their age, ability, aptitude and any special educational needs they may have.
Effective information sharing between parents, schools and local authorities is critical to ensuring that all children of compulsory school age are safe and receiving suitable education.
Risks and indicators
Children missing education can be particularly vulnerable; it is essential that all services work together to identify them and re-engage them back into appropriate education provision as quickly as possible. It is important to establish the reasons for the child missing education at the earliest possible stage.
Children who remain disengaged from education are potentially exposed to higher degrees of risk such as anti-social behaviour and/or exploitation.
Possible reasons that should be considered include:
- Failure to start appropriate provision means that the pupil never enters the system;
- Stopped attending, due to illegal exclusion, withdrawal by parent/carers or, for example, being young carers;
- Illegal removal from the roll after absence;
- Permanent exclusion from school;
- Failure to complete a transition between schools;
- Children who are victims of bullying or discrimination;
- Children from new migrant families or refugee and asylum seeking families;
- Children who are unaccompanied asylum seekers;
- Children who are teenage parents;
- Children from families who are highly mobile, e.g. Gypsy Roma Traveller families or children of service personnel;
- Children living in temporary accommodation or who are homeless;
- Children at risk of a forced marriage;
- Children at risk of honour based violence;
- Children at risk of being trafficked;
- Children at risk of sexual exploitation;
- Girls at risk of female genital mutilation;
- Children at risk of radicalisation;
- Children and young people supervised by the Youth Justice System
- Children affected by substance or alcohol abuse;
- Children experiencing abuse and neglect, including domestic abuse;
- Children whose parents have mental health problems or learning difficulties;
- Children who go missing from home or care;
Families moving between local authority areas can sometimes lead to a child becoming ‘lost’ in the system and consequently missing education. Where a child has moved, local authorities should check with other local authorities - either regionally or nationally - and share information in order to ascertain where a child has moved. Once the location of the child is established, the relevant local authority must ensure that the child is receiving an education either by attending a school or otherwise.
Actions to be taken
Local authorities have a legal duty under section 436A of the Education Act 1996 which 'requires that all local education authorities make arrangements to enable them to establish the identities of children in their area who are not receiving a suitable education', so far as it is possible to do so. The local authority must also monitor the numbers of children and young people in its authority who are not receiving an education, including those new to the area or country.
Local authority policies and procedures should include implementing effective tracking and enquiry systems. They should also appoint a named person to whom schools and other agencies can make referrals about children who are missing education.
These arrangements play an important role in fulfilling the local authority's wider safeguarding duties. Where there is concern for a child's welfare, this should be referred to the local authority children's social care service. If there is a reason to suspect a crime has been committed, the police should also be involved. Where there is concern that a child's safety or wellbeing is at risk, it is essential to take action without delay.
Parents have a duty to ensure their children of compulsory school age are receiving suitable full-time education. Some parents may choose to educate their children at home and may withdraw them from school at any time to do so, unless they are subject to a School Attendance Order. Where a parent notifies the school in writing that they are home educating, the school must delete the child's name from the admission register and inform the local authority. If parents verbally indicate their intention to withdraw their child to home educate the school should consider notifying the local authority at the earliest opportunity.
Schools have a safeguarding duty in respect of their pupils and as part of this should investigate any unexplained absences. The statutory guidance Keeping Children Safe in Education 2019 provides further guidance for schools and colleges on their safeguarding responsibilities.
A major change from 1 September 2016 to the Education (Pupil Registration) Regulations 2006 makes it a requirement that all schools (including academies and independent schools) must now notify the local authority whenever a pupil is added to their roll or removed at a non-standard transition point. This followed concerns by Ofsted that during a number of targeted inspections they had found a significant number of children had left schools without a known destination or without authorities being informed.
Schools are required to enter pupils on the admissions register on the first day on which the school has agreed, or been notified, that the pupil will attend the school. Schools must then monitor pupils' attendance through their daily register and address poor or irregular attendance. A school must not remove a child’s name from the register where the start date has been agreed but have failed to attend as school attendance procedures must be followed.
Daily calls to the parents of children not attending without a reason are an important tool in addressing longer term disengagement. Schools should endeavour to deal with the issue of a child missing from education in three ways:
- by preventing poor school attendance and truancy;
- by acting once absence has occurred to establish children’s safety and try to get them back to school; and
- by taking action to trace children whose whereabouts are not known.
Where a pupil has not returned to school for ten days after an authorised extended leave or is absent from school without authorisation for twenty consecutive school days, the pupil can be removed from the admission register. The Local Authority and School are expected to work jointly together to establish a child’s whereabouts, through making reasonable enquiries, prior to the school removing the name from the register. Guidance on what constitutes reasonable enquiries is located in Children Missing Education: Statutory guidance for local authorities, September 2016
Where a child’s name has been removed from a school's register and the child has not secured a provision and/or their whereabouts are unknown the child's name is kept on a register held centrally by the local authority, and should be clearly identified as missing education.
The Head Teacher should remain alert for local information about the whereabouts of the child. Where the child’s name has been removed from the school roll, but s/he has not been located, the Head Teacher should ensure the pupil’s records are retained until the child is located.
Where a Head Teacher has been notified by a parent/carer that a pupil is receiving education other than at school, and has removed the child’s name from the school roll, notification must be given to the Elective Home Education service without delay. The school must retain the records.
If a school receives a new pupil without receiving information about them from his or her previous school, the school should contact the previous school. If this does not result in transfer of the pupil’s file then the school should follow the school’s complaints procedures. If a school fails to share information that leads to a safeguarding issue that school must be held accountable.
Head teachers must immediately inform the Children Missing Education Officer and the child’s social worker where a child who is subject to a Child Protection Plan or looked after by the local authority is missing education.
Children missing education are at risk of being victims of harm, exploitation or radicalisation. All agencies must follow the West Midlands safeguarding children procedures where there are concerns that a child or young person is at risk of significant harm. If a child is in immediate danger or risk of harm, a referral should be made immediately to children's social care (and the police if appropriate).
It is very important that effective information sharing and joint working is maintained between parents, schools, local authorities and all agencies to ensure that all children of compulsory school age are safe and receiving suitable education. Prompt action and early intervention is crucial and those children identified as not receiving suitable education should be returned to full-time education either at a school or in alternative provision.
Professionals in Housing, Health, Youth Services, Juvenile Justice, etc may hold crucial safeguarding information about a child and/or may become aware of the arrival or existence of a child living in the area who is not receiving suitable education. Local authorities should consider all routes of information and the involvement of other agencies when making enquiries about children missing education.
A child missing from education is not in itself a child protection matter, and there may be a suitable explanation for this. Regular school attendance, however, is an important safeguard and unexplained non-attendance can be an early indicator of problems, risk and vulnerability.
All practitioners are required to demonstrate 'professional curiosity' in respect of a child or young person's education arrangements in order to establish whether a child may be missing from education. Any concerns about the child or young person's presentation or behaviour may be heightened by the knowledge that he/she is not attending school. If there is any reason to believe that a parent is misrepresenting the situation or there is any doubt about the information being provided, practitioners are encouraged to pass information to the Children Missing Education Officer for their area who will be able to make the relevant enquiries. A referral can be anonymous, however practitioners are encouraged to inform parents of any action taken to refer their child to the local authority's CME Officer.
If practitioners have concerns about the welfare or safety of a child or young person, whether they are missing education or in receipt of an alternative provision, for example being electively home educated, they should follow the procedure for making a referral to children's social care using their local referral form.
Contact details for the Children Missing Education Officer for each area will be located on the local authority's website.
- Children Missing Education: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities, September 2016
- Keeping Children Safe in Education: Statutory Guidance for Schools and Colleges, September 2019
- Elective Home Education: Guidelines for Local Authorities, 2013
Reviewed September 2017