Many Southampton Children Missing School

Nearly 12,000 children are officially missing from education, figures suggest.

Children's charity bosses said the statistic is "deeply troubling", and warned that thousands of vulnerable youngsters could be at risk of harm.

The data, obtained by the Times Educational Supplement (TES) through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, found that 11,911 children are missing from education.

Local authorities were asked how many children are known to them who are not in any kind of education, for example state or private school, or home educated.

The figures reveal large urban areas have the highest numbers of youngsters who are not in schooling.

Leicester has the highest number, with 2,611 children missing from education, according to the TES figures.

Nine other local authorities - Birmingham, Kent, Bradford, Brent, Sheffield, Southampton, Doncaster and Westminster - each have more than 360 missing children.

Sixty-nine local councils claim to have none missing, the figures suggest.

Enver Solomon, director of policy for the Children's Society, told the TES:

"It is vital children don't disappear from the school roll. There's a danger this could happen to vulnerable pupils if schools just focus on attainment and their welfare is overlooked.

"The most marginalised children have the most complex needs: they must be given additional help to remain in education."

Martin Narey, former Barnardo's chief executive, told the magazine:

"School is somewhere that every child needs to be every day.

"For many of our most vulnerable young people it is the only stability they know, the only time when a little chaos is taken out of their lives, the only time when they are required to behave reasonably.

"It is the one place where poor life expectations can be reversed. So for thousands of children - inevitably those most in need of education - to be missing from school is deeply troubling. We need to keep children in school or, when removal is necessary, as it sometimes is, ensure alternative provision is always made available in a timely manner."

Schools have a duty to report back to their local council if a child is absent for 10 or more days continuously.

The council then makes inquiries about the child's well-being.

If the youngster cannot be traced they are placed on the list of children missing from education.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education (DfE) said:

"It is vital that schools, local authorities and other services work together to make sure children receive a suitable education, in a safe environment.

"We know that absence from school has a long-term impact on pupil attainment, and we share the concerns that children who become lost from education could become vulnerable to neglect or abuse.

"Local authorities have a legal duty to take all steps possible to establish the identities of children in their area who are not receiving a suitable education.

"We will continue to look at these issues and work closely with schools and other local services to help address them."