18,000 secondary pupils go missing – in one year!

Martin Johnson writes:

The Education Datalab study of mobile secondary pupils, featured in the TES on 13/11/15, contains a particularly startling statistic. Of the 74,000 pupils in England who left a secondary school before school leaving age, ‘around 18,000’ did not turn up at another school or other provision. Yes, that’s right, 18,000 pupils from a single year group disappeared during their secondary years. The researcher Becky Allen writes ‘We do not know about pupils who emigrate or, sadly, die.’ She does not estimate the likelihood that most or all of the 18,000 are in those two categories, but in the whole UK in 2012 just 340 children aged 10-14 (ie 5 year groups) died.

Many people, including Dr Allen, have heard anecdotes of schools ‘losing’ pupils who would damage their GCSE scores. She writes, ‘Apocryphal tales of parents being ‘encouraged’ to take their children off-roll and educate them at home are widespread.’ This phenomenon is of course almost impossible to research; instead Dr Allen proposes a disincentive for such behaviour in the form of a new method for scoring GCSE outcomes, by weighting the results for time-served in the school. The GCSE points for a pupil who was at school A for 9 terms before moving to school B for 6 terms would be ascribed 9/15 to A and 6/15 to B. There may be many pros and cons to that idea, but using that method would result in six schools, all academies and five of them in London, scoring at least 10% lower on GCSE than the current method.

The key point to take away from this study is not how to tweak the accountability measures to reduce the attractiveness of ‘encourage to leave’ (a term used, by the way, in a school where I taught in the early seventies when the leaving age was 15). No, the real message is that the drop-out rate from our secondary schools is 18,000 pupils a year, undoubtedly incentivised by the accountability system. These are 18,000 highly vulnerable youngsters. Do we care? More, does the government care?

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3 Comments on “18,000 secondary pupils go missing – in one year!”

  1. Paul Martin says:

    I worked for some years’ in a London local authority with one of the highest rates of young people “Not in Education, Employment or Training” (NEET).
    The two critical factors in tackling this were a) to get the local Connexions service working efficiently and b) to overcome the reluctance of local schools to accept the problem as their own.
    It was obvious when the Coalition Government’s decided to pass responsibility for careers advice and counselling to schools that the most vulnerable would suffer.
    The problem has been obscured since then by playing down the number of young people whose post-school destinations are “unknown”. Schools have no motivation to follow-up those they have excluded or encouraged to leave. Only Connexions services knocked repeatedly at their doors and sought them out on street corners. Only Connexions tracked young offenders after release.
    Did Michael Gove and his forgettable successor will the missing 18,000? Who knows? If David Cameron doesn’t know that his Government’s cuts affect his local services, does it matter whether he is a knave or a fool?
    Either way, they deserve the missing 18,000 young people coming back to haunt them.

  2. I know first hand that many parents take their child out of school at the end of year 6 because their child has, for example, autism. Parents worry that their child will not cope in a huge school and may be at risk of being bullied or of not being given the amount of support they had previously had at primary school, so that could explain a high proportion of the 18,000 ‘missing children’ you quoted?