Call for abstracts is open now!

Commissioner: Local authorities in England must be ‘first and best education champion’ for children in care

Dame Rachel de Souza, Children's Commissioner for England

Vulnerable children in care in England are missing from school and at risk of becoming ‘invisible’ to the services there to support them, without any of the vital opportunities education provides.

That’s the key takeaway message from research by the Children’s Commissioner for England, which shows hundreds of looked after children – those who are in the care of local authorities who are deemed their ‘corporate parent’ – are not getting any form of education at all, despite the importance of school as an additional layer of protection for them.

Information collected from 149 of the 152 local authorities in England under the Children’s Commissioner’s statutory powers showed that for the first time, of the 50,846 school-age children who had been in care for at least four weeks in March 2022, 1,363 (2.7 per cent) were missing from school.

Dame Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England, said that providing education ‘owed in law’ to children in care was ‘the absolute minimum’ that she expected from local authorities. “They should be advocating for these children just as any other parent would, as their first and best champion.”

‘We cannot wait until they leave care’

Of the children highlighted in the report as missing school, 541 were not enrolled with any school or education provider at all, while 673 were in unregistered settings, such as private tuition, home education or a patchwork of other provision that is not inspected. A further 149 were enrolled in a school but missing without authorisation all of the time.

“The attendance of these children needs to be at the top of every policymaker’s agenda – we cannot wait until they leave care to start trying to transform their outcomes. It starts with education,” said Dame Rachel.

“These are not big numbers, which makes it all the more shocking that we are allowing children in care to be failed like this, becoming invisible to many of the services designed to support them. These are children for whom being in school is a protective measure and the chance to build positive, caring relationships.”

The report also showed that groups of children with additional needs or vulnerabilities were more likely to be missing from school, including unaccompanied children seeking asylum, those with special education needs or those who were either in semi-independent accommodation or moving between multiple care placements.

‘It starts with education’

The government has said that it is committed to measures aimed at improving school attendance, including through the work of its Attendance Action Alliance, of which the Children’s Commissioner is a member.

Dame Rachel has outlined a series of recommendations that will build on that work and tackle the urgent issue of getting vulnerable children – many of whom have faced significant trauma or mental health issues – into high quality education and in front of professionals trained to support them.

Click here for the full report from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England.

Author: Simon Weedy

Add your comment

characters remaining.

Log in through one of the following social media partners to comment.