One in ten children known to social care missing half of school time, reveals DfE data

Post-pandemic increase in rates of severe absence greater for children in need than for pupils overall, with problem particularly acute for those on child protection plan, annual statistics show

Teenager looking upset
Photo; motortion/Adobe Stock

One in ten children known to social care missed at least half of school time during 2022-23, show Department for Education statistics released today.

The 10.1% severe absence rate for children in need in England was almost five times that for pupils in general (2.2%), according to the annual figures on educational outcomes for children in the social care system.

And while the rate for all pupils grew by one percentage point from 2020-21 to 2022-23, it rose by 4.5 percentage points for children in need, a category that includes children on child protection plans and those who are looked after.

Absence particularly high for children on CPPs

The problem was particularly acute for children on child protection plans, whose severe absence rate was both higher than for all other children’s social care groups, at 14.8% in 2022-23, and had grown by more (6.6 percentage points) since 2020-21.

In secondary schools alone, over a quarter of children on child protection plans in state-funded secondary schools (26.4%) were severely absent – defined as missing 50% or more of possible sessions – in 2022-23.

Overall, children in need missed 16.4% of school in 2022-23, more than double the rate for pupils in general (7.5%), and up from 13.3% in 2020-21.

Post-pandemic rise in school absence

The rise in school absence in the wake of the pandemic has caused significant concern about long-term harm to affected children’s life chances.

In a report last year, Parliament’s education select committee identified low incomes and increasing levels of mental health problems among children – amid long waiting times for healthcare – as key drivers of the rise in absence levels.

Separately, analysis by think-tank the Education Policy Institute flagged disadvantaged pupils and those with special educational needs and disability (SEND), particularly children with emotional and mental health needs, as having seen the greatest increases in absence levels.

These factors partly explain the trends in absence rates for children in need.

Higher rates of SEND and poverty among children in need

The DfE data showed that while 17.1% of all pupils had a special educational need as of 31 March 2023, the rate was 50% among children in need generally and 59.2% for those on a child protection plan.

Meanwhile, three in five children in need (59.8%) were eligible for free school meals, which is based on a family claiming income-related benefits, as of March 2023, compared with 23.9% of all pupils. Again, the rate was particularly high for children on child protection plans, at 76.7%.

The statistics also showed significant and persistent inequalities in attainment between children known to the social care system and others.

At Key Stage 4 (GCSE), the average ‘attainment 8’ score – based on performance in up to eight subjects – was 18.3 for children in need, compared with 46.3 for all pupils. This was partly explained by children’s in need’s higher rates of SEN, because attainment levels were lower on average among those with special educational needs.

Better outcomes for children in long-term care

The data also showed that attainment was significantly higher among children who had been looked after for more than 12 months, who had an average attainment 8 score of 19.4, compared with those who had been in care for less time (13.1).

There was a similar gap in relation to attendance, with children who had been in care for 12 months or more having a severe absence rate of 4.9%, as against 11.4% for those who had been in care for less than a year.

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One Response to One in ten children known to social care missing half of school time, reveals DfE data

  1. David April 20, 2024 at 12:00 am #

    This has to raise the question as to the success of current Social Work interventions in promoting the improvement of children’s engagement with schooling