Where are they? Toll of Leeds’s ‘missing’ pupils

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Today the Yorkshire Evening Post can reveal the shocking toll of children who have disappeared from the education system in Leeds.

More than 1,390 youngsters have been reported as missing from the city’s classrooms in just 12 months.

And despite “exhaustive” searches from education chiefs 45 of those youngsters still haven’t been found.

Figures show that 209 children, who were reported as missing from education between May 2013 and May 2014, have left the country altogether.

The NSPCC has described the figures as worrying and warned that children who are taken abroad could be at risk of forced marriage or female genital mutilation.

A spokeswoman from the children’s charity told the YEP that children who are persistently absent are “highly vulnerable”.

She said: “These figures are worrying, but the number of children missing from education is not just a local problem, but a nationwide issue.

“It’s deeply worrying that so many children have not been traced.

“They may well be safe, but until we know that for sure, all efforts should be made to track them down.

“There are many different reasons that children and young people can go missing from school.

“It may be a sign that there are problems in the family, they are unhappy, worried about something or that they are being bullied.

“Children who are persistently absent are highly vulnerable.

“When children rarely attend school or go missing from education this can be a sign that they are at risk of abuse or that they have additional needs that are not being met.

“Concerns about children being taken abroad need to be taken seriously, as potentially, they could be victims of forced marriage or female genital mutilation.”

Over 360 children, who were reported as missing, were aged five and under and 804 were of primary school age.

More than 430 youngsters have been reintegrated back into the city’s schools and 268 have been traced to other local authorities.

Children could be classed as missing from education for a number of reasons – including if a family has moved and they have not enrolled their children into a school.

The Children’s Society has warned that teachers across the country should be trained to spot the underlying causes of absence.

And the charity said children who run away are three times more likely to be absent from school.

A spokesman added: “It may seem obvious that children missing from home are also more likely to be missing from school.

“But it is a cry for help and schools are too often failing to recognise this.

“Schools staff need to recognise the early warning signs and provide these vulnerable children with the support they need.”

Education chiefs in Leeds have said that ensuring children attend school is one of their top priorities.

And they said a number of measures are in place to try and locate children who are flagged up as “missing”.

They said schools often sent out text messages and employ attendance officers to try and trace children before turning to their extended families.

And they warned that they only close a case when they have exhausted every line of enquiry to try and find a child.

Officials said that parents have no obligation to tell a school where they are moving to.

Councillor Judith Blake, executive member for children and families, said: “Ensuring that all children in Leeds are attending school is one of our top three priorities, and as a result of the work already undertaken by children’s services and our partners, school attendance has been improving over the past few years.

“There are a number of reasons children may be classed as missing from education, most of which do not mean their whereabouts are unknown.

“For example there is no requirement for parents to tell councils when they change address and this can result in children appearing as ‘missing from education’.

“We do everything we can to ensure that children are in school, including having a team dedicated to tracking down children who are missing from education.

“The team checks records, carries out home visits, contacts relatives and other local authorities to ascertain whether the child has changed address.

“Where a child has been located and identified as having been out of education for some time a named professional will work with the child , the family and the school to support their re-integration into school.

“We want to make sure that every child in Leeds is able to benefit from attending school.”

Jancis Andrew, Leeds City Council’s area head of targeted services, added: “Prevention is the best thing we can do.”

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