Children Missing Education: Important Background Information
The DCSF is currently consulting on "Draft Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities to Identify Children Not Receiving a Suitable Education". More details here.
Home Educators had feared that this had come about solely as a result of input from local authorities not satisfied with the Guidelines on Home Education for Local Authorities issued by DCSF in 2007, who sought increased powers to monitor and regulate home educators.
Education Otherwise has learnt that in fact, the instruction to revised the Guidance was issued by the Home Affairs Select Committee's Sixth Report on 'Domestic Violence, Forced Marriage and "Honour"-Based Violence'.
Under section 150 - The role of schools and education authorities: children "missing" from schools - it states:
"As part of our inquiry we undertook a short investigation into the particular issue of children who have disappeared from school and who may have been forced into marriage."
Data on children 'missing' from school rolls appeared to show large numbers of children unaccounted for (section 154)
"Jasvinder Sanghera of Karma Nirvana told us that "we are finding examples across England and Wales where children have gone off rolls and people have just allowed them to go off rolls without tracking where they are"."
The Minister apparently told the Committee that "contrary to what had initially been suggested, the figures collected by local authorities could not be directly related to forced marriage. " However, he went onto say (section 156 (b)) that figures concerning children missing education included:
"Children who are being educated at home, where the local authority does not judge that education to be of a sufficient standard"
This astounding assertion was compounded by the Committee agreeing that it was impossible to say which, of any, of the children "missing" were at risk from forced marriages. This did not stop them saying that "we remained concerned about the numbers of children who were still unaccounted for."
The report goes on:
"162. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the DCSF wrote to HM Chief Inspector of Schools (HMCI) to seek her view on how well local authorities were implementing their duty to establish the identities of children not receiving a suitable education. Although the HMCI reported that most authorities have 'good' procedures in place, she reported that "in a few areas there is a lack of an over-arching co-ordinated approach to collecting and recording the data relating to missing children which makes it difficult to establish their whereabouts". The Minister wrote to us that local authorities "are using different definitions of categories of children whom they are identifying and tracking". He concluded that:
There is scope for developing some standard definitions for local authorities to use in collecting information and we plan to consult on this issue over the spring and summer, with a view to including these in updated, extended statutory guidance on identifying children not receiving a suitable education. "
Some children listed as 'home schooled' could be at risk
163. Director of the Crown Prosecution Service London West, Nazir Afzal, and District Judge Marilyn Mornington, both of whom work regularly with cases of forced marriage, were troubled that some children who were classified as not in suitable education and who were listed as being home schooled were in fact at risk of forced marriage. Mr Afzal told us that some children:
Are, allegedly, being home schooled and very many of them are not being home schooled at all because there is no means of being able to check what is happening to them. Very many of them will end up being victims of forced marriage or honour-based violence.
District Judge Mornington told us that the DCSF has guidance for schools on children being educated at home, but that the system of inspection lacked teeth because parents could deny access to the home and the child.
164. The evidence from victims collected by the Forced Marriage Unit and other survivors' groups, and heard in the course of our inquiry, convinced us that there are children in real danger of being removed from school, or further education, and forced into marriage.
165. However, when we examined the issue of these 'missing' children we exposed a confusing picture, of different data recorded by different schools and local authorities in different categories, none of which could give us concrete information about children at risk of forced marriage. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Children, Schools and Families himself recognised the shortcomings in the available data, and proposed to consult on developing a standard definition for local authorities in collecting information.
166. Currently, schools only record data on pupils listed as being 'not in suitable education'. This covers a wide range of reasons, and from our investigations it became clear that these data tell us little about children at risk of forced marriage. This caused us great concern. Rather than disproving that there are children missing from schools who have been removed and forced to marry, our investigation showed simply that there is no adequate mechanism of identifying these children.
167. We acknowledge that data collected by schools are unlikely ever to identify the true numbers of young people forced into marriage. Many victims are aged 16 or over, some may be listed as home-schooled, and others are taken abroad during school summer holidays. These categories are unlikely ever to be comprehensively captured in school data. Nevertheless, we consider that data collected by schools provide a vital mechanism by which some of those most at risk might be identified.
168. We consider that the measures outlined by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Children, Schools and Families—to develop a standard definition for local authorities, and reissue guidance on children listed as 'not in suitable education'—are urgently necessary as a first step to standardising data collection between schools and local authorities. However, more action is needed. We recommend that as a matter of urgency the Government commission research into the relationship between trends identified through cases of forced marriage and data collected by schools. In this, we support the broad framework for research set out by the Joint Director for the Association of Directors of Children's Service, John Gaskin.
169. We did not investigate the relationship of children listed as being home-schooled to possible cases of forced marriage. However, the link made by experts between home-schooling and forced marriage is troubling, and we recommend that the Government include this issue in a revision of data collection and procedures for identifying cases of forced marriage and child protection."
Therefore, the Report gave three instructions to DCSF:
- to consult upon and agree a set of data definitions to be used by LAs in identifying children "not receiving a suitable education";
- for these results to be included in revised updated statutory guidance; and
- for the resulting revised guidance to strengthen the safeguarding message contained within it
It is important that home educators understand this context for the revised Guidance and are able to use this knowledge in their consultation response.
A full review of, and guide to, the draft revised guidance will shortly be uploaded to the campaign site, and we hope that this will assist home educators in making their own response to the Consultation.
The civil servant heading up the consultation has asked for responses to be as detailed as possible, outlining exactly which words and phrases we wish to see removed and – importantly – suggesting revised wording.