Advertisement

Ghost children: Labour to force vote on creation of list of those not in school

Labour is aiming to force a vote on the creation of a list of children out of school, as it seeks to shine a spotlight on the number of youngsters missing lessons under the current government.

Announcing their plans, the opposition party highlights that absences have reached "historic" levels since the Conservatives took power in 2010 - increasing by 40% since then.

The phenomenon has also become known as "ghost children".

Severe absences - missing more than 50% of school days - have tripled since the same date.

Analysis by the party claims that one in three children sitting their GCSEs this year have missed nearly three months of secondary school since the pandemic.

Politics latest: 'Warning signs' missed over measles outbreak, minister told

Labour says it wants council-maintained lists of children not on school rolls.

The party is planning on using an opposition day on Tuesday - when they get to choose the topic debated in the Commons - to propose the legislation be heard on Wednesday 7 February.

Opposition days tend to be political and can be easily defeated by the government if it needs to utilise its majority - although the debates can prove sticky if centred on a controversial topic, as seen by the fracking vote which precipitated the collapse of Liz Truss's premiership.

Labour has highlighted the backing of ministers and Tory MPs previously leant to creating such registers or lists.

Read more on ghost children:
Thousands are missing school - COVID made it worse
No single reason for surge in school absences

Absences now at crisis point. This is Teddy's story
Government under pressure over 'ghost children'

The government had promised to introduce a register within the Schools Bill, which was announced under the then education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, in May 2022 when Boris Johnson was still prime minister.

However, the bill was scrapped in December of that year by Gillian Keegan, appointed to the schools brief by Rishi Sunak.

Mrs Keegan did tell the Commons' Education Select Committee at the time that the concept of a register was "definitely a priority".

Nick Gibb, who was schools minister at the time, told the same committee in July 2023 that the "register of children not in school is important, and we consulted on it".

He added: "Again, we do not have a legislative vehicle to introduce it, but we are still committed to doing so."

A similar bill was introduced by Conservative MP Flick Drummond last year, and was backed by nine other Conservatives, including former education secretary Sir Gavin Williamson.

The attempt by Ms Drummond did not even progress past a first reading in the Commons, with no vote taking place.

She has made a second attempt with her The Children Not in School (Registers, Support and Orders) Bill, which is set for a second reading and vote on 15 March.

A report from the children's commissioner found children who were persistently absent for years 10 and 11 were half as likely to get five GCSEs when compared to students more often in attendance.

It is understood that the government is still working with councils on non-statutory registers.

Click to subscribe to the Sky News Daily wherever you get your podcasts

Bridget Phillipson, Labour's shadow education secretary, said: "Conservative MPs, including the current schools minister and two former schools ministers, claim to support the register of children not in school but yet again have failed to deliver.

"The secretary of state has said it is her priority to legislate on a register 'in the very short term': that is why Labour is giving her and her Conservative colleagues an opportunity to make good on her pledge.

"There is no time to waste if we are to tackle the biggest challenge currently facing our schools - that is why Labour's motion is so essential, and represents the first step of our long-term plan to get to grips with persistent absence.

"Only Labour is demonstrating the kind of leadership on education which will break down the barriers to opportunity and deliver better life chances for our children."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "The government is committed to ensuring that all children, especially the most vulnerable in our society, are safe and have access to a suitable education.

"We remain committed to legislating to take forward the Children Not in School measures, and will progress these when the legislative timetable allows."