Not One Less

Why too many children leave education without any qualification?

As Children’s Commissioner, I am really shocked and very concerned to see the very high number of children who were out of school at some point last year. These statistics are an absolute scandal and we must do something about it before they get even more out of control.”  [Anne Longfield, Former Children’s Commissioner, February 2024]

In 2019 the Children’s Commissioner office discovered an increase of 28% of children leaving school at age of 18 without substantive qualifications. This is equivalent to 100,000 young people, who every year leave school without any achievement that could help them begin apprenticeships or start technical or academic courses or have any hope for a perspective career in whatever sector.

Those thousands of young lives are every year at risk of falling victims of criminal exploitations. 

More statistics, published in February 2024, confirmed that the trend of leaving school without significant qualification is increasing and in 2022-23 has affected about 126,000 young people. This is a further 25% more than before Covid.

All this figures may look in the end small compared to the large majority of students who are satisfied with their achievements and families who appreciate the school system.

Those arid figures, though, represent thousands of young people who do not have a clear path into the future, but often hang out with no hope of any better perspective than relying on social benefits or temporary non-qualified jobs or even worst outcomes. 

A sensible society can’t afford to ignore such an unfair condition of children and young people. 

A parallel phenomenon has been detected in those researches: the increase of home education. Those new home-educated children are almost children with special educational needs and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, who don’t find at school the answers they need for their conditions.

My research found that many children who were home educated had a bad experience of the school system. 82% of children who left the school roll for home education had a history of poor attendance. Parents told my office that they often opted for home education as a last resort.” [same source: Anne Longfield, Report February 2024]

The new Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel De Souza, will certainly look into those data and work to correct the trends, but I would like to add some other elements taken out of my personal experience rather big data.

In my knowledge, there are  cases of children leaving school before the age of 18 not because of poor social conditions or other vulnerabilities.

There are children, who are not quick enough to learn within a given time the taught academics, and sooner or later find themselves out of the school path.

There are children, who live a rich imaginative world and appear to their teachers as dreamers who are ‘not interested’ with the school: they are also left behind, even if they might be allowed to sit in class, unchecked and without progress.

There are teenagers, who feels incapable to do maths or write an essay or a creative text and give up the school altogether as they feel incapable (or made feel incapable).

There are young girls and boys, feeling anxious for not performing well enough at school, scared of the future, hopeless, fragile, emotionally vulnerable.

Those conditions have dramatically increased after the experience of the pandemic, as many experts -and this blog- have consistently warned.

There are too many young people, who feel unsettled, do not feel good and can’t find the human element that in too many cases they desperately seek.

The main problem, in my opinion, is that schools are currently constrained to deliver dry academic cognition rather than committed to embrace a child-focused approach.

A child-focused approach would respects the children’s needs, their personal talents, their individual pace and strategy of learning.

If we really want to avoid the scandal of children leaving school without any significant qualification, then we need to provide a school path that delivers significant contents and an embracing human environment. 

When a teenager wants to stop to go to school because “the school doesn’t make sense”, that is simply tragic. 

Never mind how many kids are in this condition: a school plays its social role when it matches the ethics of “not one less”. 

“Not one less” is a guideline that should apply to children, young people, adults. It should apply to every member of a community, especially a school community.

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