State intrusion into families is already high
tracked, reported, fined, punished
The Schools Bill* is a dangerous escalation
Organisations, academics and campaigners – in child protection and safeguarding, education, SEND, data protection, law, and human rights – are deeply concerned that the attendance measures and the plans for registers will hurt, rather than help, children and families.
UPDATE: SCHOOLS BILL DEAD, LONG LIVE THE SCH…? See below for the latest and our letter to the government.
There has been a worrying narrative around attendance, and about children being “not in school”. Politicians and public bodies have used statistics and numbers which are inaccurate, cherry picked or taken out of context. In talking about children ‘not in school’ or missing school they have mixed up very different groups of children and claimed that ‘the children are at risk’. The narrative paints it as a growing problem, one that must be “everyone’s business” including social services, the police and border control and proposes surveillance, large databases and even children’s national ID – a unique reference number – as the solutions to these problems.
This dangerous rhetoric ignores the reality that the majority of children and young people in question are not “ghost children” but are with their families. That they do not need to be “hunted” or “tracked down” as they are already on databases and their location known. That it is dangerous to ask an already over-stretched social services to widen their net, that instead we need more focus on those children where there are reported concerns.
The demands for even greater levels of gathering and distributing of children and young people’s information ignores the reality that surveillance does not keep children and young people safe. There are substantial and lifelong negative impacts for both the individual child and their family.
We know – and the government knows – that fines and threats of punitive action do not make any difference to children’s attendance. They do however add to the stress, anxiety and difficulty for families who are in need of support not punishment.
There are indeed problems which need resolving and children who need help, but not like this. These authoritarian responses create more problems than they solve, both for the individual children and families and for wider society.
* The Schools Bill is dead. Long live the Sch…?
In December 2022 it was confirmed by the government that the beleaguered Schools Bill was to be abandoned. However at the same time the Secretary for State, Rt Hon Gillian Keegan MP, gave ongoing support to the dangerous ‘Children Not in School’ registers and the attendance measures laid out in the governmental guidance Working together to improve school attendance.
We are deeply disappointed that the government have failed to listen to the many concerns of experts and families. It is clear that the attendance guidance is already having a highly negative impact on children and families with an increase in threatening letters and attendance measures making an already difficult situation worse.
“The Schools Bill increases State surveillance of children and families while services to support them are cut. Labelling children as problems can be very harmful.”
Eileen Munro, Emeritus Professor of Social Policy
“The focus of whether children are in school or not is misguided. Instead of solutions to keep children safe – listening to children and to concerns raised by family members – proposals seem to be for databases which help no-one.”
The Victoria Climbié Foundation UK
“There’s already a demonising of children who struggle with attending school and a smearing of parents and carers as abusive or neglectful in some way. The Schools Bill cracks down even harder, catapulting yet more struggling families into the criminal justice system or into child protection, neither of which helps.”
Join the growing numbers saying
no to this State power grab
The School Bill is a significant escalation of already harmful practices of State overstep. If allowed to pass it will change the relationship between State and family in fundamental ways. The outcomes will be negative for children and young people, for their families and for wider society.
Say no to the surveillance State, to ever rising numbers of families investigated by social services and the criminalisation of children, young people and families. Say no to blaming and scapegoating children, young people and families for failings of society and the school system.
Individuals supporting in their own name
Dr Chris Bagley, Professor Andy Bilson, Dr Naomi Fisher, Dr Remi Joseph-Salisbury, Emeritus Professor Eileen Munro, Dr Harriet Pattison