15.7 Safeguarding children who are absent from education
- Introduction(Jump to)
- Fixed term / period and permanent exclusions(Jump to)
- Reduced / part-time / re-integration timetables that go beyond 6 weeks(Jump to)
- Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND)(Jump to)
- Children with medical conditions (including complex neuro-disability)(Jump to)
- Children and young people open to Youth Offending Teams (YOT)(Jump to)
- Expectations on school attendance(Jump to)
- Elective Home Education(Jump to)
- Children and families who move across Safeguarding Children Partnership Boundaries(Jump to)
Children being absent from education for prolonged periods and/or on repeat occasions can act as a vital warning sign to a range of safeguarding issues including neglect, child sexual and child criminal exploitation - particularly county lines. It is important the school or college’s response to persistently absent pupils and children missing education supports identifying such abuse, and in the case of absent pupils, helps prevent the risk of them becoming a child missing education in the future. This includes when problems are first emerging but also where children are already known to local authority children’s social care and need a social worker (such as a child who is a child in need or who has a child protection plan, or is a looked after child), where being absent from education may increase known safeguarding risks within the family or in the community.
Fixed term / period and permanent exclusions
Suspension and exclusion from school
The DfE guidance Exclusion from maintained schools, academies and pupil referral units in England (publishing.service.gov.uk) sets out that only the head teacher of a school can suspend or exclude a pupil, and permanent exclusion must be a last resort and in response to a serious breach or persistent breaches of the school's behaviour policy; and where allowing the pupil to remain in school would seriously harm the education or welfare of the pupil or others in the school.
In considering the appropriate consequence for breaching the school’s behaviour policy, the headteacher should consider the following factors:
Best practice would be to prioritise the pupil’s safety and wellbeing when responding to breaches of the school’s behaviour policy. It is important to engage the family and seek the views of the professional network around the pupil prior to a decision to exclude, and source alternatives to suspension/exclusion wherever possible.
Should a headteacher decide to suspend or permanently exclude a pupil open to social care the social worker must be informed without delay. It is important to follow the local area’s guidance for informing the local authority of suspensions and exclusions for all pupils.
Reduced / part-time / re-integration timetables that go beyond 6 weeks
The DfE guidance School attendance guidance (publishing.service.gov.uk) sets out that as a rule pupils should not be placed on reduced timetables as all pupils of compulsory school age are entitled to a full-time education. A reduced timetable means that the number of hours spent in education are reduced for a time limited period of no more than six weeks. It is unlawful to impose a reduced timetable without parent/carer consent, this includes the social worker for Looked After Children.
In very exceptional circumstances there may be a need for a temporary part-time timetable to meet a pupil’s individual needs. For example, where a medical condition prevents a pupil from attending full-time education and a part-time timetable is considered as part of a re-integration package.
There are risks associated with reduced timetables and these risks increase significantly over time, which is why a part-time timetable must not be treated as a long-term solution and should only be in place for a maximum of 6 weeks.
In considering whether a reduced timetable is appropriate, schools should consider:
It is important to follow the local area’s guidance on reduced timetables, including engaging with local authority services.
Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND)
All partners have a responsibility to ensure that children and young people vulnerable to underachievement can access their full-time educational entitlement. Pupils with SEND, both with and without an Education Health and Care Plan, are more vulnerable to the impact of exclusion and a reduced education offer. A reduced education offer can place additional pressure on the family, leading to increased safeguarding risks and chance of family breakdown.
As well as following the best practice guidance set out in this document for all pupils, schools need to consider that:
It is important to follow the SEND Code of Practice SEND_Code_of_Practice_January_2015.pdf (publishing.service.gov.uk) and the local area’s guidance on identifying and meeting the needs of pupils with SEND, including engaging with local authority services to remove any barriers to accessing full time education.
Children with medical conditions (including complex neuro-disability)
All schools have a duty to support children with medical needs to continue to access education according to: Supporting pupils at school with medical conditions (publishing.service.gov.uk)
‘Pupils at school with medical conditions should be properly supported so that they have full access to education, including school trips and physical education.
Where there are safeguarding concerns regarding a pupil’s access to education relevant individuals in health, education and social care should be in contact to ensure that a clear plan is in place to re-engage the pupil with education.
Local authorities have a duty to provide education for children who are unable to access education at school and where the school is not able to provide an education under the duties above.
Where a school has concerns around a pupil’s attendance due to medical needs they should refer the concerns to the LA who will look at whether it is appropriate for the LA to provide an education or whether the school should, under the above guidance, look to adapt their learning offer to ensure a pupil’s continued engagement with learning at school.
Children who have an Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP) are entitled and should receive an annual review of their EHCP, especially if they have reduced school attendance.
Where the school has concerns regarding the pupil they should always have regard to Keeping children safe in education (publishing.service.gov.uk) and involve colleagues in other agencies in discussing the pupil such as:
Children and young people open to Youth Offending Teams (YOT)
All partners have a responsibility to ensure that children and young people vulnerable to exploitation and/or family breakdown can access the protective factor of their full-time educational entitlement. Pupils open to YOT are more vulnerable to the impact of exclusion and a reduced education offer, both for their immediate safeguarding and long-term outcomes.
As well as following the best practice guidance set out in this document for all pupils, schools need to consider that pupils open to YOT will be at significant increased risk of being drawn into further offending and child exploitation when they are not in school. Additional pressure is also placed on the family, increasing the risk of family breakdown. It is essential for schools to follow the local area guidance, including engaging with support services to ensure vulnerable pupils can access and engage with a full-time education offer.
It is important to refer to the local area’s Youth Justice Plan and any guidance on supporting pupils open to YOT, including engaging with local authority services to remove any barriers to accessing full time education.
Expectations on school attendance
The school attendance guidance School attendance guidance (publishing.service.gov.uk) states that ‘Central to raising standards in education and ensuring all pupils can fulfil their potential is an assumption so widely understood that it is insufficiently stated – pupils need to attend school regularly to benefit from their education. Missing out on lessons leaves children vulnerable to falling behind. Children with poor attendance tend to achieve less in both primary and secondary school.’
Where a pupil is not in school then school governing bodies and school proprietors need to have regard to the statutory guidance ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education ‘ Keeping children safe in education (publishing.service.gov.uk) and should ensure appropriate safeguarding responses are in place, particular where a child is not attending on repeat occasions. If there are concerns schools should use their professional judgement and consult their safeguarding lead on whether it is appropriate to escalate the concern to their local child protection services.
Schools are expected to make every effort under safeguarding expectations to contact parents and maintain contact where a pupil is not attending, offering support as necessary. They can also have recourse to statutory powers to enforce attendance (administered by the local authority) if that is appropriate and subject to the local attendance code of conduct- (see below).
Local authorities should have their own guidance on school attendance and should publish a Code of Conduct in relation to attendance and ensure that they can fulfil statutory duties to promote good attendance, including administering fixed penalty notices, parenting orders and education supervision orders.
Schools also have a duty to inform the local authority that a pupil’s name is to be deleted from the admission register under strict prescribed grounds as soon as those grounds are met.
Persistent and chronic school absence
In addition to the expectations outlined above then where there is persistent absence (defined nationally as 90% or below) then, dependent on the individual circumstances, a bespoke multiagency approach may be appropriate. This may necessitate a team around the family or team around the child approach using appropriate local provision. This may include:
For chronic school absence the above guidelines are appropriate, and schools should use their professional judgement and consult their safeguarding lead on whether it is appropriate to escalate the concern to their local child protection services.
Mental health issues affecting attendance
The below document builds on the Working together to improve school attendance guidance, and should be read alongside the statutory guidance documents on parental responsibility measures, children absent from education, supporting children with medical conditions, suspensions and exclusions, alternative provision, and safeguarding.
A list of relevant links to further guidance is available at the end of the document.
The guidance below makes clear the expectations placed on school staff as well as academy trustees/governing bodies, parents/carers and Local Authorities (LAs) where there is a pupil experiencing social, emotional or mental health issues that are affecting attendance. This guidance applies to any pupils displaying any social, emotional or mental health issue that is affecting their attendance. It is not only for pupils who have a diagnosed mental disorder, or a disability or special educational need.
Elective Home Education
Elective home education: departmental guidance for local authorities (publishing.service.gov.uk) (Section 7 is particularly relevant)
‘A situation in which a child is not receiving a suitable full-time education requires action by a local authority under education law, as described above. But it is important to bear in mind that unsuitable or inadequate education can also impair a child’s intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development, and may therefore bring child protection duties into play. This will depend on the facts of the case, but local authorities should consider whether they ought to take action under safeguarding law’
All parents have a responsibility to ensure their child receives a full-time education appropriate to their age and ability and to any special educational need they may have. This can include providing that education themselves at home or elsewhere.
The removal of a child from school roll to home educate should be treated by a school as with any child removed from roll and they have a duty to inform the local authority under Children who are absent from education guidance.
It is important to note that a child being home educated does not in itself constitute a safeguarding concern, however local authorities must make arrangements to find out so far as possible whether home educated children are receiving suitable full-time education.
There is no legal definition for home educating parents regarding educating their children at home: ‘There are no specific legal requirements as to the content of home education, provided the parents are meeting their duty in s.7 of the Education Act 1996. This means that education does not need to include any particular subjects, and does not need to have any reference to the National Curriculum; and there is no requirement to enter children for public examinations. There is no obligation to follow the ‘school day’ or have holidays which mirror those observed by schools.’
However, if it is clear that in the opinion of the local authority a child is not receiving a suitable education then they may refer the matter to the relevant local child protection service since ‘a failure to provide suitable education is capable of satisfying the threshold requirement contained in s.31 of the Children Act 1989 that the child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm.’
Children and families who move across Safeguarding Children Partnership Boundaries
See 1.9 Children and families who move across Safeguarding Children Partnership Boundaries | Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures Manual section 1.9.49 Responsibilities for Health Professionals.