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1.4.5 Children Missing Education Protocol


This chapter details the issues and concerns in respect of children who are not registered in a school, or who go absent and effectively do not return, together with the necessary action required. Links to a variety of up-date guidance is provided.


Department for Education (2016), Children Missing Education: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities

Department for Education (2014), School to School (S2S) Guide


Thresholds for Children’s Social Care Safeguarding Services (agreed by Southwark SCB)

Children Missing from Home Procedure

Southwark Safeguarding Children Partnership Protocol for Children at Risk of Sexual Exploitation


This chapter was amended in September 2018 to update the material regarding a child missing school (see Section 2, Identifying and Tracking Children Missing Education) and when a child changes school (see Section 1.3, School Responsibilities). (Note there are two forms for missing education based on whether it is thought a child is on a school’s roll or does not have a school - but should be receiving education).

Note also key statutory education guidance has been updated; current links continue to go to these documents.


  1. Introduction and Legal Context
  2. Identifying and Tracking Children Missing Education
  3. Supporting Children Back into Education
  4. Preventing Children at Risk of Missing Education
  5. Safeguarding
  6. Review
  7. Dissemination
  8. References and Further Information

1. Introduction and Legal Context

1.1 Who are ‘Children Missing Education’ and Why Do They Matter?

Children are defined as missing education if they are of statutory school age (5-16 years) and are not on a school roll AND not receiving a suitable education at home or in alternative provision.

Children may come to miss education for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • They may never have started in a school;
  • They may cease to attend school, due to exclusion or parents withdrawing them;
  • They may have left primary school but not completed transition to secondary school, e.g. because parents do not believe that they have been offered a satisfactory option;
  • They may have moved into a new area, including from abroad.

Southwark faces particular challenges as a borough with a highly mobile population, with significant movement in and out of the borough throughout the school year.

Children missing education (CME) are plainly at risk of educational under-achievement, with a potential long term impact on their life chances. In addition, research shows that children missing education are at higher risk of getting involved in crime, substance misuse, and other harmful behaviour. Ofsted (2014) has identified that ‘Children who are missing from home, school or care are at greater risk of sexual exploitation’.

1.2 Local Authority Responsibility

Section 436A of the Education Act 1996 states that Local Authorities ‘must make arrangements to enable them to establish (so far as it is possible to do so) the identities of children in their area who are of compulsory school age but:

  1. Are not registered pupils at a school; and
  2. Are not receiving suitable education otherwise than at a school.

…“suitable education”, in relation to a child, means efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs he may have’.

‘Children Missing Education: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities’ (Department for Education, 2015) states that Local Authorities should:

  • Have ‘robust procedures and policies in place to enable them to meet their duty in relation to these children, including appointing a named person that schools and other agencies can make referrals’ to;
  • ‘Undertake regular reviews and evaluate their processes to ensure that these continue to be fit for purpose in identifying and dealing with Children who Miss Education in their area’;
  • ‘Consult the parents of the child when establishing whether the child is receiving suitable education’;
  • ‘Have procedures in place to prevent children at risk of becoming CME’;
  • Ensure that ‘those children identified as not receiving suitable education’ are ‘returned to full time education either at a school or in alternative provision’.

1.3 School Responsibilities

Keeping children safe in education: statutory guidance for schools and colleges’ (DfE, 2018) states that ‘A child going missing from education is a potential indicator of abuse or Neglect. School and college staff members should follow the school’s or college’s procedures for dealing with children who go missing from education, particularly on repeat occasions, to help identify the risk of abuse and neglect including sexual abuse or exploitation and to help prevent the risks of their going missing in future... Governing bodies and proprietors should put in place appropriate safeguarding responses to children who go missing from education’.

DfE guidance on School Attendance (2018) states that ‘All schools (including academies) must inform their local authority of any pupil who is going to be deleted from the admission register where they:

  • Have been taken out of school by their parents and are being educated outside the school system e.g. home education;
  • Have ceased to attend school and no longer live within reasonable distance of the school at which they are registered;
  • Have a medical condition certified by the school medical officer that the pupil is unlikely to be in a fit state of health to attend school;
  • Are in custody for a period of more than four months due to a final court order and the proprietor does not reasonably believe they will be returning to the school at the end of that period; or
  • Have been permanently excluded.

Change to School Register Form:This form must be completed whenever a pupil’s name is added or removed from a school’s register. When adding, it should be completed within 5 days, and when removing completed as soon as the ground for deletion is met, and no later than the time at which the name is deleted.

The local authority should be notified in advance of the deletion, when the school becomes aware that the deletion will be made’.

The DfE School Attendance guidance (2018) also states that, ‘All schools (including academies) must agree with the relevant local authority, the regular interval that the school will inform the local authority of any pupil who fails to attend school regularly, or has been absent without the school’s permission for a continuous period of 10 days or more’.

2. Identifying and Tracking Children Missing Education

Notification of Potential CME

Southwark’s process for identifying and tracking children missing education is led through the Pupil Access division in Southwark Children’s and Adults’ Services – Education. The Central Strategic Manager is the named person for CME. Where direct case work is required to support children back into education, this is undertaken by the Early Help service.

The majority of children missing education, or at risk of missing education, are identified by schools. Where a child remains on a school roll and there are concerns about them not receiving full time education as a result of poor attendance or other factors, the school should notify Southwark Early Help service via their regular meetings, or via a CAF if additional services may be required.

Where a child is believed to have left a school with no confirmed forwarding address, destination or educational provision, the school should make initial enquiries to confirm the child’s whereabouts. If these checks are not successful, the school should notify the Early Help Service via a CAF. This should include details of what checks have been undertaken and any relevant contextual information (if there are safeguarding concerns, the school should consider a MASH referral, see Section 5, Safeguarding).

Children may also be identified as potentially missing education through a number of other sources:

  • Children may come into contact with health or other services who identify that they do not appear to be in school;
  • Children may be found out of school during the school day by truancy patrols or the police, with no record of them being on a school roll;
  • Other local authorities may inform Southwark that a child has moved into the area;
  • Members of the public may notice that a child of school age does not appear to be in school.

Southwark positively encourages other agencies and members of the public to inform the Early Help Service of children who they believe may be missing education:

In addition to following up on referrals, Southwark uses the termly school census returns to identify children who may be at risk of missing education.

Checking Children Potentially Missing Education

In the first instance, checks are carried out by Pupil Access on all children identified as potentially CME. These will include:

  • Checking on the Capita One system and school census returns to identify if child is on the roll of a school in Southwark;
  • Checking Capita One, Care First and Synergy to identify what contact details are available for the family, and whether they are currently being supported by Early Help or Children’s Social Care;
  • Checking with the Council’s housing and/or housing benefit teams to identify current address;
  • Contacting the parent(s) by telephone if number is available to determine whether the child is on roll at another school or is being home-educated;
  • Contacting social worker or Early Help lead professional, where case is currently open, to identify if they have any information about child’s school;
  • Sending a letter to parents at last known address requesting information on the school the child is attending;
  • Checking that any identified siblings are attending school.

In all cases, information received from parents, professionals or data systems will be verified by contacting the school to confirm child is attending.

In the majority of cases, children identified as potentially CME are found at this stage to be actually on the roll of a school or being home-educated. Details on systems will be amended, and referrers informed of the outcome. However, if this is not the case, and no reply to letter to parent has been received within five working days, the referral will be passed to the relevant Early Help Locality Manager/Team leader to allocate the case to a member of the team to carry out a home visit.

If after visiting the home, the Early Help team have not been able to speak to parents and to clarify child’s education arrangements, further checks to seek information will be carried out via Housing, Immigration Enforcement or Maisy as appropriate. Other Local Authorities will be contacted if there is an indication that family may have moved into their area.

Once all reasonable efforts to locate the family have been exhausted, the case will be closed. Details of children will be loaded on to the ‘Lost Pupil’ section of the national S2S (School to School) system. (See School to School (S2S) Guide, Schools (DfE, September 2014)). This will enable other Local Authorities to identify the children if they start attending a school in their area.

Where the child’s whereabouts remain unknown and there have previously been safeguarding concerns, the case will be risk assessed via the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub to identify whether any further action, such as referral to the police, is appropriate.

Southwark retains a list of all children referred as potentially missing education, and the outcome. However, children will not be classified as CME for data monitoring purposes until checks and a visit has been carried out and it has been confirmed that the child has been consistently absent from education for at least twenty days.

Children who are confirmed as being home-educated are not as classified as CME, unless, in exceptional circumstances, the Local Authority has grounds for believing that a child said by the parent to being home educated is not in fact receiving a suitable education (see ‘Elective Home Education Protocol’).

3. Supporting Children Back into Education

Children who do not have a school place will ordinarily be supported in finding a place through the Admissions Team. The service has an ‘in year’ admissions process and a Fair Access Protocol to ensure that children who are vulnerable or have challenging behaviour are able to access and secure a school place or alternative provision as quickly as possible. (See Southwark Fair Access - to follow).

Where parents are declining to engage with the Admissions process or may not otherwise be meeting the requirement to ensure that their child receives a suitable education, the case will be referred to the Early Help Service locality team for follow up case work.

In some cases children identified as potentially missing education will be found to be on the roll of a school but with poor attendance. In maintained schools, or Academies trading with the Early Help Service, Education Welfare Officers in the Early Help Service will work with the school and the family to support an improvement in the child’s attendance.

4. Preventing Children at Risk of Missing Education

Southwark has identified that the following groups of children may be particularly at risk of becoming CME:

  • Children with poor school attendance, in particular those approaching or exceeding the 20 day absence limit when a school may inform LA of its intention to remove child from school roll;
  • Children permanently excluded from school, or at risk of permanent exclusion;
  • Children on roll of Alternative Education Providers (AEPs) and Pupil Referral Units (PRUs);
  • Young people being supported through the Youth Offending Service;
  • Young parents of statutory school age;
  • Children of homeless families living in temporary accommodation;
  • Unaccompanied asylum seekers and refugees or children of asylum seeking families;
  • Children living in refuges for women affected by Domestic Violence and Abuse;
  • Children from a Gypsy/traveller background;
  • Children being Electively Home Educated where there are concerns about whether a suitable education is being provided;
  • Children facing delay in being allocated a suitable school place through in-year Admissions;
  • New arrivals in the borough who delay seeking a school place or are identified as ‘hard to place’.

Southwark monitors children at risk of missing education through its Children at Risk of Missing Education Monitoring Group, led by managers in the Early Help Service. The main purpose of the Monitoring Group is to ensure that there is no drift, delay or avoidance in following up cases where there are concerns.

A report on Children at Risk of Missing Education will be provided on an annual basis to the Southwark Safeguarding Children’s Board (SSCP) (see Southwark Council website). It is acknowledged that Children Missing Education may be at great risk of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and rigorous monitoring, reporting and follow up will assist in identifying and addressing emerging issues.

5. Safeguarding

Should there be concerns that a child believed to be missing education may be at risk of harm, a safeguarding referral to the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub should be considered in line with ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ and with reference to Southwark Safeguarding Children Partnership thresholds.

Where children missing education are also identified as missing from home or care, Southwark’s protocol for Children missing from home or Care must be followed.

Where children identified to Pupil Access as potentially missing education are currently open to Children’s Social Care, details of the CME enquiry will be sent to the relevant social worker to consider any impact on risk. 

Young people who are missing education may be at increased risk of child sexual exploitation (CSE). Pupil Access is represented at the monthly Southwark Child Sexual Exploitation Operational Group and checks before each meeting if any children to be discussed are believed to be missing education. Where there are CSE concerns, Southwark’s CSE Protocol (2018) is followed.

Where children who are missing education are identified as being at risk of involvement in extremist activity, ‘Southwark Children’s Services Practice Guidance on Safeguarding Children from Extremism’ (2016) is followed.

6. Review

This protocol was agreed by the Children and Adults Board, April 2015 and updated to reflect organisational changes in April 2016 on the authority of the Director of Education. The protocol will be further reviewed.

7. Dissemination

This protocol is for distribution to:

  • Headteachers of all Southwark schools;
  • Managers and staff in Children’s & Adults Services;
  • Southwark Safeguarding Children’s Board members and partner agencies for dissemination to their staff.

8. References and Further Information