850 children disappear from Havering schools in 5 years

Havering Town Hall

Havering Town Hall - Credit: Archant

More than 850 children have disappeared from the Havering school system over the last five years – mostly because parents didn’t tell authorities they were moving home.

A Freedom of Information request revealed the number of pupils referred to the attendance and behaviour team at Havering Council following 10 days of absence from school with no contact from the family.

In 2014/15 there were 144 cases, down from 186 the previous year. In 2012/13 there were 228, 2011/12 134 and 2010/11 183.

At that point, a host of checks are carried out to check whether the children are missing.

The council will see if parents are still in receipt of any benefits, whether they are still registered at their local GP and whether they are known to the police safeguarding team.

They will also add them to a “lost pupil database” used by all authorities nationwide to track missing schoolchildren.

Usually by this point the child has been traced to another location after moving home, but six of the 144 children missing from 14/15 have still not been found.

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In that situation, the council will work with the police for eight weeks to investigate the possibility of child sexual exploitation, radicalisation or trafficking.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, said in July children could be put at risk of harm or exploitation by the failure to track pupils who are taken out of school.

In a publicised letter to education secretary Nicky Morgan about progress at schools in Birmingham and Tower Hamlets thought to be at risk of extremism, he said “serious safeguarding issues” had been found at inspections by Ofsted.

“I believe that the regulations relating to in-year transfers, which date back to 2006, need to be urgently reviewed and considerably strengthened,” he said.

“They should take into account of our heightened awareness of the risks that some young people face, such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage, child sexual exploitation and falling prey to radicalisation.”

Havering has had no cases of any of the mentioned dangers, and Mary Phillips, head of learning and achievement at the council, said her team was doing all it could to keep it that way.

“We are determined to ensure it doesn’t happen here,” she told the Recorder. “We have a lot of processes in place that some other outer London boroughs don’t.

“Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t, so wherever we think there might be an issue we would rather do all the checks.”

Police say they are currently investigating one child from the borough, but have not said what happened to the other five cases they were looking into.

Mary denied any possibility the children could have been forgotten about and said the council had a really good relationship with the police.

She also pointed to the council’s 100 per cent compliance with all schools, including academies, as a reason for its record – something a lot of other authorities can only dream of.

As most cases are straightforward and the result of a family moving, Mary called on parents to do more to ensure schools know they are leaving.

“They will say ‘oh telling the school was something I meant to do’,” she said. “In some cases I would like their children’s education to be higher on their to do list.”