It went something like this. John (not his real name) said he might be leaving school at the end of term. He gave us a name of the school he said he would be attending. John didn’t return at the start of the next term so we assumed he’d left although it was odd his parents hadn't said anything. We sent off his GCSE coursework to the new school. A couple of weeks later we received it back. John was not a pupil there.
We never found out where he’d gone.
It brought home to me how easy it was for children to disappear. That was twenty years ago. The problem still persists. And it’s a serious safeguarding issue, says Sir Michael Wilshaw
, Chief HMI.
Ofsted has completed focused inspection of schools in Tower Hamlets and Birmingham. It was during these that Ofsted became concerned about the possibility of ‘high numbers of pupils’ being deleted from school registers without schools or local authorities having any idea where they had gone.
Sir Michael said most schools and LAs complied with the law* but inspectors had found worrying examples of ‘inconsistent’ recording of children leaving, poor communication between schools and LAs, and ‘inadequate systems’ for tracking pupils leaving independent schools.
Most disturbingly, inspectors noted schools had no legal duty to keep records about where pupils go after being crossed off admission registers. And LAs aren’t required to check where these children are.
Inspectors found that when schools recorded reasons for pupils leaving, these were often vague such as ‘gone to live with grandparents’, ‘moved to Manchester’, ‘gone to Libya’ or ‘moved abroad’.
This casual attitude was putting children at risk, Sir Michael wrote. It made it ‘very difficult, if not impossible’ for schools and LAs to identify children in danger from the majority who would be experiencing a suitable education in state or registered independent schools or being home-schooled.
‘We cannot be sure that some of the children whose destinations are unknown are not being exposed to harm, exploitation or the influence of extremist ideologies. We do not know whether these children are ending up in unregistered provision,’ Sir Michael told Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan.
Sir Michael urged Morgan to review and ‘considerably’ strengthen the law around in-year transfers. He wants heads to be required to record details of onward destinations, send the information to their LA and highlight cases causing concern. The tougher requirements should lay down what action LAs must take when onward destinations aren’t known.
Whether Morgan will take note of Sir Michael’s strong urging is unclear. But this is one example of an important issue, along with teacher supply and school funding, which should be in the minds of the Education Secretary and her ministers. However, it appears pushing the Education and Adoption Bill through Parliament is more important than tackling such concerns. But children are at increased risk when politicians’ minds focus on school structure rather than safeguarding.
*Education (Pupil Registration) Regulations 2005 (particularly Regulations 8 and 12).