In Brief

How 100,000 ‘lost children’ disappeared from UK school system

Experts warn that vulnerable pupils may be recruited by gangs after failing to return to education post-lockdown

More than one in 80 UK school pupils have failed to return to school following the lifting of coronavirus lockdowns, according to a new analysis of official data.  

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) found that 93,514 pupils were “severely absent” - absent more often than they were present - during the autumn school term. In a newly pubished report titled “Kids Can’t Catch Up If They Don’t Show Up”, the think tank reports that the total number of absent youngsters has risen by 54.7% year-on-year. 

And the authors warn that “children who have been missing from formal education settings have become vulnerable to local gangs or dangerous home environments”.  

The figures reveal a particularly “alarming” rise in primary school absences, which increased from 16,471 to 34,405, “as the chaos caused by Covid made it easy for vulnerable youngsters to slip through the net”, says the Daily Mail.

While some children are being home-schooled after the pandemic “ravaged the education system”, others may “end up being expelled or simply drop out of education altogether after the disruption of the past year, putting them at risk of being drawn into a life of crime”, the newspaper continues.

The CSJ points to a link between regular absence and increased likelihood of exclusion, and says that expelled students are likely to face “a grim concoction of economic insecurity, disengagement and personal turmoil”. 

The think-tank’s chief executive Andy Cook said: “When a child disappears from our school system, their future often disappears with them.

“Our research shows that by the end of last year almost 100,000 pupils were missing more than half of lessons, even after Covid absence is stripped out.”

These are the “lost children of lockdown”, he added.

Department for Education statistics published last month show that the overall absence rate in schools across England was 4.7% between September and December last year - equivalent to 22 million days lost, or three per pupil.

And a further 33 million days were lost as a direct result of Covid, either because pupils were ill with the virus or had to self-isolate after contact with someone who tested positive.

The government has pledged a total of £3bn in funding to help students catch up on “lost learning”. But critics are calling for more to be done to support the most at-risk youngsters.

The CSJ recommends that £100m of funding be spent on appointing “2,000 school attendance mentors” to support and help engage persistently absent pupils. 

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