Understanding Children Missing Education (CME)


There are growing concerns about the number of children in the UK who are not attending school or receiving a suitable alternative provision. According to the Department for Education (DfE), data collected from local authorities estimated that in the year 2021/22, 94,900 children were missing education during the Autumn term.[1] 


Children missing education (CME) are those of compulsory school age who are not, for whatever reason, receiving a suitable education. This means they are not registered to any school or educational setting, receiving recognised alternative provision or being educated appropriately at home.


Previously, Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) also referred to ‘children missing from education’. However, in 2023, they replaced this with ‘children who are absent from education for prolonged periods and/or repeated occasions’. The Department for Education estimates that in Autumn 2022, this number was around 125,222. [2] This figure has increased since the pandemic, with many children failing to return to school since they were forced to close.


What are the Risks to Children Who Are Missing Education?


Dr Richard Anderson, Head of Learning and Development at High Speed Training, said: Attending school and receiving an education has countless benefits for children. It is essential for their personal growth and development, and school also plays a vital role in safeguarding young people. 


“Many children benefit from the structure and routine provided by their school day. School can be where some children feel safe and cared for the most.” 


Lack of safeguarding – It is very challenging to effectively safeguard a child who is missing education. School staff are incredibly well-trained and positioned to notice when a child is in need. 


Increased risk of maltreatment – If children are not being safeguarded in school, they may be at risk of various types of maltreatment, including abuse and exploitation, which could go unnoticed. 


Mental Health Issues – Not only do children miss out on the chance to learn about mental health issues in school, including how to deal with them, but not having a structured education may affect their own mental health. 


Unemployment – An obvious risk of a lack of education is being unable to secure a job in the future. Children who lack relevant qualifications don’t have as many options when it comes to employment, meaning they may not be able to have careers they enjoy or feel fulfilled in.


How to Recognise and Respond to Children Missing Education


Dr Richard Anderson, Head of Learning and Development at High Speed Training, said: A child may miss education for various reasons. In some cases, this may be planned, and the school may be informed. When instances are unplanned and unexpected, this can be more challenging. Staff should be aware of children who may be considered more at risk of missing education in this way.”


These children include:


  • Refugees.
  • Children for whom English is an additional language (EAL).
  • Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) children.
  • Looked after children (LAC).
  • Young carers.
  • Children with challenging homelives.


It is essential for staff to:


Know the children in their care: this includes understanding a child’s background and any contextual factors that may make them more at risk of missing education.


Keep accurate attendance records: this allows for concerns to be raised as soon as a child is missing education completely or for prolonged periods.


Raise concerns properly: In most cases, this will involve contacting the child’s parent/carer in the first instance to understand the situation. 


Work collaboratively with other agencies: other agencies will likely include the Children Missing Education team at the local authority, and where there are concerns linked to abuse or crime, Children’s Social Care or the police. 


Responsibilities for Parents


Parents are legally responsible for ensuring their child attends school regularly or receives a suitable, alternative education. Where children are educated at home, it should be in line with a recognised and approved curriculum. If their child is being educated at school, they must ensure they attend on time each day for all their lessons. 


Parents can also support the school in being able to safeguard their child by:


  • Informing the attendance officer when their child cannot attend school, i.e. due to illness or an appointment.
  • Applying for holidays in term time in writing; although most term-time holidays won’t be approved, it can still help staff to know the likely circumstances of absences
  • Letting the school know if their child is refusing to attend school and explain why if they know the reason. That way, school staff can work to support the child in returning to school and mitigating any worries they may have about attending.


Dr Richard Anderson, Head of Learning and Development at High Speed Training, said:Children who miss education are significantly disadvantaged. They risk falling behind their peers in terms of academic achievement, missing out on social interaction and building positive relationships.


“They can also be at a greater risk of suffering maltreatment. It is, therefore, vital that everyone involved in safeguarding children work together collaboratively to recognise and respond to cases of CME.”


[1] https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/children-missing-education