We don’t know how many children aren’t on school rolls

8 February 2022
What was claimed

Between 80,000 and 100,000 children are not on any school rolls at all.

Our verdict

The Children's Commissioner misspoke when she made this claim. There is no current data to support this.

A BBC article, published in January, claims that “between 80,000 and 100,000 children [are] not on any school rolls at all” following national Covid-19 lockdowns. This is not accurate.

The article attributes this figure to the Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, after she made the claim on Radio 4’s Woman's Hour on 19 January, but her office later told us she "misspoke in the midst of a long, live, on air interview”. 

There are no current figures for how many children are not on school rolls—an issue that Ms de Souza is directly working with local authorities to address. A school roll is essentially a list of the number of pupils a school has, alongside some basic information about them. 

The “80,000 to 100,000” figure actually relates to the number of children who were persistently absent from school (missing 50% or more of possible sessions) in Autumn 2020 following the first Covid-19 lockdown, the most recent term for which we have data. 

We have written about this figure several times before, drawing attention to the fact it has been used to reflect the current situation when already months out of date. 

In recent years there has been an increased focus on “off-rolling” which, as Ofsted defines it, is the practise of removing a child from a school roll without using a permanent exclusion, “when the removal is primarily in the best interests of the school, rather than the the best interests of the pupil”. It can also include pressuring a parent to remove their child from the school roll. 

A report published by the Education Policy Institute in 2019 found that more than 61,000 pupils in the 2017 school cohort experienced unexplained exits at some point during their time at secondary school. 

There are lots of different reasons children might not be on a school roll, for example home-schooled children, who may never have been on a school roll in the first place. 

The Telegraph reported in April 2021 that more than 20,000 children had “fallen off” school registers when the Autumn 2020 term began. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services projected that, as of October 2020, more than 75,000 children were being educated at home. 

However, as explained above, this is not the same as being persistently absent.

Photo courtesy of Charisse Kenion, via Unsplash. 

We took a stand for good information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted the BBC to request a correction regarding this claim.

The BBC has amended its article and added a correction note.

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