Academic year 2023/24

Children missing education

This is the latest data
Next update
Release type


This publication provides data reported by local authorities on children missing education (CME) (opens in a new tab) in England. 

CME are children of compulsory school age (opens in a new tab) who are not registered pupils at a school and are not receiving suitable education otherwise than at a school.  This includes children who are awaiting a school place and children in receipt of unsuitable education, including those children local authorities are supporting to place into suitable education.  

An elective home educated (EHE) child whose education is deemed unsuitable should be classified as CME. A separate release has been published relating to EHE

Children who are on the roll of a school but persistently or severely absent are recorded in the school census. Information on these children can be found in Pupil absence in schools.

The figures are published as official statistics in development to provide national estimates of CME for users. As a relatively new data collection we expect the quality of the data returns to improve over time as the collection becomes established. We welcome user feedback on these statistics via the details in the “contact us” section below.

Data is presented for both the number of CME at a point in time on the autumn term 2023 census day, and the number of CME at any point during the 2022/23 academic year. Where a child was missing education more than once during the year, they are only recorded once. 

Future data will be published annually. The next publication in winter 2024 will include termly data collected up to autumn 2024.

Headline facts and figures - 2023/24

Explore data and files used in this release

  • View or create your own tables

    View tables that we have built for you, or create your own tables from open data using our table tool

  • Data catalogue

    Browse and download open data files from this release in our data catalogue

  • Data guidance

    Learn more about the data files used in this release using our online guidance

  • Download all data (ZIP)

    Download all data available in this release as a compressed ZIP file

Data Quality

The EHE and CME data collections have been developed to:

  • build a clearer picture of the EHE and CME cohorts at local and national levels, 
  • help the Department for Education identify outlying local data and work with those local authorities to understand the reasons, and 
  • help understand the drivers of EHE and CME. 

Local authorities have a duty under section 436A of the Education Act 1996 to make arrangements to establish the identities of children in their area who are not registered pupils at a school and are not receiving suitable education otherwise. Discussions with local authorities suggest that the data is an accurate reflection of the number children they have identified but there is some variation in practice, including around when a child should be recorded as CME. This means that whilst the data is an accurate reflection of the number of CME on record within local authorities, it may not represent a consistently defined estimate of all CME across the country.  

The following considerations should be noted when using this data: 

  • Data was received from 94% of local authorities in the 2023/24 Autumn term, return rates for the previous academic year varied between 90% and 96%. To account for non-response, national and regional figures have been uprated based on local authority pupil populations.
  • Response rates varied across data items; this includes where more detailed breakdowns are not readily available.
  • Length of time child was missing education at census date and primary reason for CME were added to the data collection in Autumn 2023/24. 
  • As part of the ongoing data quality assurance process, DfE has carried out detailed discussions with local authorities to understand trends in the data. We have learnt that there are three broad reasons driving variation in CME figures between local authorities: 
    • local authority characteristics and circumstances. For example, some local authorities recorded high levels of CME due to families arriving from Ukraine and Afghanistan, and their children applying for school places. 
    • Varying CME identification and support practices. For example, some local authorities never close a CME case unless it is confirmed a child is enrolled at school, whereas others close a case once the child has been identified in another local authority or country.  
    • Different working definitions of CME. For example, local authorities report variation in the point at which an EHE child receiving unsuitable education is classified as CME and whether their CME figures include children awaiting a school place and/or children on a school roll for whom CME enquiries are being carried out. 

CME counts will vary depending on the population within the local authority, which may change over time, for example there can be higher numbers of CME at the start of a school year as parents await their preferred school place. Increased identification of CME may also result from improved recording and support practices within local authorities. High or low counts do not necessarily reflect ‘good’ or ‘bad’ practice. 

As this is a new data collection since 2022/23, we expect the quality of the data returns to continue to improve over time as the collection becomes established. For example, reductions in the number of unknown values for detailed breakdowns and increased response rates.

Children missing education on census days

Local authorities reported an estimated 33,000 children missing education on census day in autumn 2023. This includes adjustments made for non-response and is based on a figure of 30,400 reported by 94% of local authorities. The rate of CME was 0.4% of the population of comparable ages (based on ONS mid-year population estimates (opens in a new tab) for children aged 5 to 16 years).

CME increased each term throughout the 2022/23 academic year and increased by an estimated 4,900 between the 2023 Summer term and the start of the 2023/24 academic year. 

As this is a new data collection, which first started in autumn 2022, increases are likely to be in part due to improvements in data quality and recording practices, for example use of more consistent working definitions and improved familiarity with the collection. Please see the Data Quality section for further information.

The length of time a child was missing education was collected for the first time in Autumn 2023. Of the total CME on census day 45% had been missing education for 12 weeks or less and 39% had been missing education for more than 12 weeks, the length of time the remaining 16% had been CME was unknown.

The primary reason for CME was also collected for the first time in Autumn 2023. Of those reasons known or provided, the reasons most reported were believed to have moved out of the country or out of the local authority to another local authority in England (enquiries being/have been conducted to locate child), accounting for 20% of children, followed by school application awaiting outcome (8%) and moved in from another local authority and have not yet applied for a school place and are not receiving suitable education elsewhere in the meantime (7%).  

Primary reason given for CME, Autumn term 2023

Moved out of country11%
Moved out of local authority9%
School application awaiting outcome8%
Moved in from another local authority7%
Unsuitable EHE6%
Waiting school start5%
Did not get school preference3%
Moved in from another country3%
Difficulty accessing suitable school place2%
Challenging SAO1%
School dissatisfaction general1%
School dissatisfaction SEND<0.5%
School dissatisfaction bullying<0.5%
Not recorded20%

The proportion of children missing education varies by characteristics. The figures below relate to Autumn 2023 but trends remain very similar to 2022/23.

  • Sex - 47% of CME were reported as female and 52% of CME were reported as male (the rest were unknown). This compares to 49% of the overall school population as female and 51% male as at January 2023.
  • Year group – The number of CME was stable throughout primary school ages with around 7-8% of CME in each year group, increasing to 10-12% in secondary.
  • 17% of CME were White British and 31% from ethnicity minority backgrounds. The remaining 51% had refused to provide their ethnicity or were unknown.
  • 8% of CME had an additional requirement of SEN support, while 6% of CME had an education, health and care plan. This compares with 13% and 4% respectively for the overall school population.
  • 3% of CME were recorded as a child in need, while 1% were recorded as having a child protection plan and 1% were a looked after child. This compares with 3% children in need, 0.4% having a child protection plan and 0.7% looked after children amongst the overall child population.

SEN provision and in need status was as known to the LA as at the census day and therefore may exclude children who previously held these additional requirements and those for whom these requirements were not known. 

Children missing education – at any point during the academic year 2022/23

Data was also collected on the number of children reported by local authorities as missing education at any point during the 2022/23 academic year. Where a child was reported as CME more than once, they are only recorded once. These are cumulative counts of all pupils reported by local authorities as CME at some point in the academic year and are not directly comparable to the point in time figures presented as at census day each term. 

Local authorities identified an estimated 117,100 CME, that is not registered at school or otherwise receiving suitable education, at any point during the 2022/23 academic year. This is based on a figure of 95,200 reported by 93% of local authorities.

Help and support


Find out how and why we collect, process and publish these statistics.

Official statistics in development

These statistics are undergoing a development. They have been developed under the guidance of the Head of Profession for Statistics and published to involve users and stakeholders at an early stage in assessing their suitability and quality.

They have been produced as far as possible in line with the Code of Practice for Statistics.

This can be broadly interpreted to mean that these statistics are:

  • managed impartially and objectively in the public interest
  • meet identified user needs
  • produced according to sound methods
  • well explained and readily accessible

Find out more about the standards we follow to produce these statistics through our Standards for official statistics published by DfE guidance.

Contact us

If you have a specific enquiry about Children missing education statistics and data:

School Statistics Team

Contact name: Pauline Potts

Press office

If you have a media enquiry:

Telephone: 020 7783 8300

Public enquiries

If you have a general enquiry about the Department for Education (DfE) or education:

Telephone: 037 0000 2288

Opening times:
Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 5pm (excluding bank holidays)