The number of children ‘missing from school’ in Essex is almost double compared to three years ago.

Figures from Essex County Council (ECC) show that for the 2020/21 year – up until June 17 – there were 1,444 children missing from education.

In 2017/2018 there were 869.

In 2018/2019 the number was 1,509.

In 2019/2020 there were 1,399 children recorded as missing from education.

The Local Government Association (LGA) says that gaps in the coordination of policies and guidance around pupil registration, attendance, admissions, exclusions and non-school education is allowing children to slip through the net.

It suggests that children with additional vulnerabilities – such as social, behavioural, medical or mental health needs – are most at risk of doing so.

The LGA says that not only is this putting pupils at risk of slower progress in learning and poorer job prospects, but also likely to lead to poorer mental health and emotional wellbeing, restricted social and emotional development and increased vulnerability to safeguarding issues, such as domestic abuse, grooming and criminal exploitation, such as county lines drug activities.

Those not receiving a formal full-time education might be routinely not attending school all day or every day; at home receiving tuition or none at all; in an unregistered or illegal school; or unknown to children’s services, reports the LGA.

It adds a growing proportion of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) may be out of formal, full-time education.

There has been an increase in parents choosing to educate their children at home not just as a result of the pandemic, but also due to a child's anxiety through exam pressures and social media bullying.

There has also been an increase in the number of parents taking their child out of mainstream schooling in order to avoid council action – including fines for their child’s non-attendance or if the school raised concerns with children’s services about wellbeing.

ECC has announced it will invest £1 million in reading over the next 18 months. This is to support children and young people affected by the loss of learning and missed opportunities during the pandemic.

A new campaign – Essex Year of Reading 2022 – is striving to ensure that every Essex child leaves school able to read at their age level or better.

A task force also plans to invest £500,000 into mental health and emotional wellbeing support.

Councillor Tony Ball, ECC’s cabinet member for education excellence, skills and training, said: “It has been an incredibly difficult year for them and this additional support will help them to thrive and support education colleagues to enable them to do so.

“We want the county to be at the forefront of shaping education policy and achieving bright futures for all pupils, and are confident that our plans will help to make this a reality.”