Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Missing In Education

Last week the BBC published an online article examining the incidence of children missing in education in Scotland - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-41579840 . "Children Missing in Education" came into place in 2005 as a response to children who are unable to be traced by local authorities after a four week period (or 2 to 3 days for the most vulnerable of children). Worryingly though, not all children who go missing are traced. In the past three years 32 missing children have never been traced - where have they gone?

Children missing from school can be down to a number of reasons, some of which can simply be relocation of family and an oversight to highlight this to the school and local authority. However, other reasons are more sinister and can include abuse and forced marriage. The Scottish Government's own research states that between 2011 and 2014 there were 191 cases of known forced marriage ("forced marriage defined as: where one or both people do not consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used - https://www.gov.uk/guidance/forced-marriage ), of these cases the majority were within the 18-25 age group, with those under 16 being 1 in 10 of these - http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0051/00513514.pdf . Therefore, it is possible to suggest a causal link between missing in education and forced marriage in at least some cases. 

COSLA has stated that the highest incidences of children "missing in education" has been amongst young people in cities where populations are very mobile and families come from a "broad range of backgrounds" - http://www.cosla.gov.uk/news/2017/10/cosla-reponse-missing-children-education . Many of these have been children from Eastern Europe where often people will either relocate back to country of origin or else move to where there is work. 

BBC Freedom of Information requests were sent to all 32 local authorities in Scotland with responses indicating that 390 children between the ages of 4 and 16 have been recorded as "missing in education" in each of the past three years. Given that the Children Missing in Education scheme, established in 2005, meant that every child has a unique identification number (meaning they should, in theory, be able to be traced across local authorities) we need to ask why this is still happening? What is government doing to ensure this system works competently and no child can just vanish from the system? What measures are in place to ensure children who are more vulnerable are not going to disappear? 

Education Secretary, John Swinney has stated that responsibility for ensuring children are in school rests with the local authority (the same local authorities this SNP government is keen to wrest power away from through their regional collaboratives initiative), which is correct but responsibility also must come from national government. GIRFEC (which I have spoken of often) is not getting it right for that one child who disappears from the system, whose whereabouts and welfare are unknown - that must be addressed. The 139 missing in Glasgow last year alone demonstrates deep flaws in the current system. 

Here in Fife I have sent a request to the Director of Education Services asking the following questions:

1. Has Fife Council responded to this request?
2. How many pupils in Fife over the past three years have been recorded as missing in education?
3. What steps have been taken to discover the whereabouts of those children?

4. How many of those "missing" have since been "found"?

Currently I am awaiting answers to these questions.


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