Back in 2015, the Chief Inspector of Schools wrote a letter to the Secretary of State for Education in which he expressed concern about inconsistent practice and poor communication in identifying children who are missing from education. He pointed out that the law did not oblige schools to establish and record destinations for all pupils whose names are removed from admission registers and expressed the view that this posed serious safeguarding issues, potentially exposing children to the risk of harm, exploitation or extremism. He recommended that the Government strengthen the law – as set out in the Education (Pupil Registration)(England) Regulations 2006 – to ensure schools provide fuller information to local authorities.
The Government responded by publishing a consultation paper, in which it proposed to change the law to require schools to keep more thorough records and communicate more information about pupils (and former pupils) to local authorities.
The 2006 Regulations require schools to maintain admission registers containing prescribed information about every pupil at the school. Once a pupil's name is on the register, it can only be removed for one of the reasons listed elsewhere in the Regulations. In the past, schools only had to notify the local authority if the removal was for one of a small number of those listed reasons.
Following the consultation, Parliament created new Regulations, which make a number of amendments to this system. The changes came into effect from 1 September 2016.
Information to be kept in the admission register
In addition to the existing details, schools will also need to note the following:
• Where a parent notifies the school that, in future, the pupil will normally be living with a parent at another address (whether as well as or instead of the pupil's current address):
- the full name of the parent with whom the pupil will be living in the future;
- the other address; and
- where it is reasonably practicable to find out, the date from which the pupil will normally be living at the new address.
• Where a parent notifies the school that the pupil is either registered at another school or will be attending another school in the future, the name of that other school and the date on which the pupil attended or is due to attend that school, where it is reasonably practicable for the school to obtain this information.
Circumstances in which a pupil can be deleted from the admission register
Two of the listed circumstances are (1) that a pupil has failed to return to school after an authorised leave of absence, or (2) that a pupil has been absent from school without authorised leave for a certain period of time.
Previously, in both cases, the school and the local authority were required to make reasonable enquiries to ascertain the pupil's whereabouts before the school could delete him or her from the admission register.
The new Regulations amend this slightly – the enquiries must now be made jointly. There is nothing in the Government's response to the consultation about what sort of collaboration is envisaged. However, the Government has stated that it will update relevant guidance, so it may be that this will provide more of an indication of what is expected.
Notifying the local authority about pupils added to and removed from the admissions register
Instead of only having to notify the local authority about certain deletions from the admission register, the only circumstance in which deletion will not have to be reported is where a pupil leaves the school after finishing the final year, unless the local authority specifically asks for that information. Notification must be made before the pupil's name is deleted, and must tell the local authority:
- the pupil's full name;
- the full name and address of any parent with whom the pupil normally lives;
- at least one telephone number at which a parent with whom the pupil normally lives can be contacted in an emergency;
- where one of the situations outlined in the section headed "Information to be kept in the admission register" applies, the relevant details from the admission register; and
- the grounds for deleting the pupil's name from the register.
Schools will also have to notify local authorities within five days of registering a new pupil, except when the pupil concerned is in the school's youngest year and is added at the beginning of the school year (unless the local authority asks for information). All the details in the admission register will need to be passed on to the local authority within that time limit.
The Government's response to the consultation makes it clear that most local authorities will exercise their discretion to ask schools for details of pupils who are admitted and leave at "standard" transition points, so schools should be prepared to supply this information.
Impact on schools?
The consultation recognised that schools would incur some costs in familiarising themselves with the legal changes, reporting removals and additions, and contacting parents for information about deleted pupils' new schools. In the consultation paper, the Government estimated that the total cost to the independent sector would be around £0.5m per year. In its response to the consultation paper, it states:
"In terms of the adaption of management information systems, we are confident that most schools and LAs will have the necessary infrastructure and processes in place, with only some additional amendments and updates required to implement the changes effectively from September 2016. This s because all schools should currently be providing their LA with information about pupils removed from their register under the five grounds listed in the regulations."
The statutory guidance "Children Missing Education" has been updated to reflect these and other changes. The new guidance was published on 5 September 2016 and can be accessed here.
The Government will monitor the impact of the changes and review the revised system some time before 1 September 2019. You can read the Regulations, Explanatory Memorandum and final Impact Assessment on the Government's legislation website.
If you require further information on anything covered in this briefing please contact Rachel Holmes (firstname.lastname@example.org, 020 3375 7561), Katie Rigg (email@example.com/ 020 3375 7607) or your usual contact at the firm on 020 3375 7000. Further information can also be found on the Schools page on our website.
This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.
© Farrer & Co LLP, September 2016