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Government must act on ‘ghost children’ missing from education system

Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the House of Commons Education Select Committee

The Government has cancelled multi-million pound contract with Randstad, but response to Committee’s Catch-Up Report falls short on tackling persistent absence

In March, cross-party MPs warned of an ‘epidemic’ of educational inequality exacerbated by the loss of learning caused by covid-19 lockdowns. The Education Select Committee’s Report, Is the Catch-up Programme fit for purpose?, called on the Government to prove its multi-million pound pandemic Catch-Up Programme was working, or else cancel its contract with tutoring provider Randstad.  

Today, the Committee publishes the Government’s response to its Report. The Committee strongly welcomes the Government’s actions which include ending its contract with Randstad, simplifying and allowing schools more autonomy over funding routes, and undertaking a review of the impact of Covid-19 on SEND pupils.

However, the Report’s warnings about persistent and severe absence have not been fully addressed. Despite calls from the Committee for ‘proactive measures’ to help children back to school, the Government’s response does not yet commit to a targeted support plan. Recommendations to introduce mental health and wellbeing assessments for schoolchildren were also rejected. 

A copy of the Government’s response to the Catch-Up report can be found here.

Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon MP, said:

“After a lengthy campaign led by the Education Committee, I welcome the changes made by the Government including ending the contract with NTP provider Randstad, and giving schools the autonomy they need to organise catch-up programmes. Schools know their pupils and their needs the best and it is right they are able to make these decisions.  

“However, the elephant in the room remains. According to the Children’s Commissioner, over 124,000 “ghost children” have still not returned to school. It is also particularly concerning that the Centre for Social Justice reported that before March 2022, 13,000 pupils in exam-critical years were missing from the system and the latest figures published by Education DataLab suggest that 5% of pupils were severely absent from September to May of this year. We cannot risk these children becoming an ‘Oliver Twist’ generation, slipping through the cracks and lost to the system forever. 

“The Department have made some very welcome interventions but it must ensure that targeted support is provided to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children to ensure that every child has equitable access to climb the ladder of opportunity and develop to reach their full potential.”

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