This rapid review looks at 23 papers on the school non-attendance of children with a social worker in the UK. Whilst previous research has found a correlation between school attendance and higher academic achievement, poorer attendance is known to affect children from vulnerable groups, particularly those with a social worker, who would likely stand to benefit most from education. This review considers children who are on a Child in Need (CiN) plan, Child Protection Plan (CPP), or Children Looked After (CLA).
Published alongside the review is a report produced by young people, who were recruited to review the report, provide feedback on accessibility and language, and to produce their own responses to the rapid review. This report contains their responses and reflections on the findings.
This rapid review had three objectives:
- Review the extent of non-attendance (absences, exclusion and non-enrolment) in school among children with a social worker (CSW)
- Identify the risk factors associated with absence.
- Determine the effectiveness of the existing interventions to improve attendance.
A grey literature search was conducted, as well as a systematic search for studies across eight electronic social science, sociology and education databases. The review was also limited to including empirical research (randomised controlled trials, observational studies, and qualitative studies) that have been published since 2010 involving school-age children between the ages of 4 and 17 in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and/or Wales.
Extent of absence among CSW
- CSW are more likely to be absent from school than children without a social worker. For example, CLA had almost twice as many absences (12.2%) compared to all other children (6.8%) over the academic year.
- CSW in the UK have higher exclusion rates than children without a social worker.
- CSW were also more likely to miss education due to becoming unenrolled from school before the school leaving age.
Risk factors for absence
Risk factors for non-attendance among CSW were identified as:
- type of social work intervention (e.g. CiN, CPP or looked after)
- length of care placements
- placement type
- age when entering care
- special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)
- behavioural, emotional, or social difficulties
- school instability
- and gender.
Effectiveness of existing interventions to improve attendance
- The interventions we reviewed varied in scope and aims. For example, two studies aimed to support children on a CPP or CiN through the Covid-19 pandemic, whilst one study focused on developing school awareness on attachment and trauma.
- The research evidence for interventions improving school non-attendance was relatively weak – most evaluative studies focused on children in foster care.
The findings suggest that there is a lack of recent interventions targeting school non-attendance among CSW in the UK, as well as a lack of research into the risk factors of school non-attendance and what can be done to mitigate them. It is recommended that policymakers look to how they can best support those on the ‘front line’ of school non-attendance, including foster carers, schools and teachers.