Children Missing from Education

Portfolio Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:00 pm on 6 June 2024.

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Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative 2:00, 6 June 2024

To ask the Scottish Government whether it has reconsidered collating information on the number of children who are “missing from education”, in light of its reported failure to do so to date. (S6O-03534)

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

“Children missing from education” is different from persistent absence. That measure relates to children of compulsory school age who are not on a school roll and are not being educated otherwise.

The current approach in Scotland is that someone who is deemed to be “missing from education” would be a welfare concern, and that should be followed up by local authorities, in line with their statutory requirements for the delivery of education locally. However, I continue to consider further the need for national-level data on the matter. To that end, I have requested further detailed advice from my officials on the legalities of gathering further data of that nature. I will update Liam Kerr in writing on that point in due course.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

I am very grateful for that, and I look forward to receiving that update, but I am disappointed that the issue has not moved on since I first raised it before Christmas. Does the cabinet secretary agree that one of the key ways to tackle child poverty is through education? If so, should the Government not be moving heaven and earth to collate that information and remove any of the barriers to its collation so that solutions to help children who are missing from education can be found?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

I absolutely agree with the sentiment behind Liam Kerr’s question. Of course, the law in Scotland is slightly different from that in other parts of the United Kingdom. That is one of the reasons why that data measure is not currently captured in the same way in Scotland as it is in other parts of the UK. However, there is an urgency here.

Last year, I undertook greater information collection in relation to persistent absence. We now have the new measure. That data set was introduced in our data for the first time this year. It is important that Liam Kerr recognises that, because we have seen an uptick in persistent absence, particularly post-pandemic, with young people not engaging with the formal education system.

Liam Kerr has raised a hugely important point. I have more detailed data on the legalities involved, which I will write to him about later today. I hope that I can put that on the record to update the rest of Parliament.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour

I thank the cabinet secretary for confirmation of the welfare issue that arises from that lack of data. How does she intend to comply with article 27 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child next month, when the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Act 2024 becomes active law in this country?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

I am more than happy to write to Martin Whitfield about the specifics of his points on the UNCRC. It is important that our actions in Government marry up the requirements of that legislation. I will take official advice on that matter, but I imagine that our approach would need to be in line with the UNCRC’s requirements.