The most vulnerable children parts of the Black Country are more than three times as likely to skip school as their peers.
New figures from the Department for Education reveal that Walsall’s children in need missed 16,989 school sessions in 2017/18 without permission.
It means they were absent for 5.7 per cent of all sessions – or roughly one in 18 lessons.
Children who are not considered in need missed only 1.8 per cent of sessions over the same period.
The figures show 30.3 per cent of children in need were classed as persistent absentees – having missed at least 10 per cent of possible school sessions.
That compares with 11.1 per cent of children in Walsall overall.
A child in need is someone who has been referred to social services but whose parents are still responsible for their care.
Experts said the most vulnerable children who are missing school are at a greater risk of being groomed for criminal and sexual exploitation.
Iryna Pona, policy manager at The Children’s Society, said: ““Participation in education may be difficult for these children and they might struggle to keep on top of their school work.
“In the short-term, if children are not in school they could face greater risks including grooming for criminal and sexual exploitation, especially if they are missing from home or care.
“Our research suggests that without adequate support, children’s happiness and well-being is likely to be damaged and they are less likely to do well at school and college as they approach adulthood, continue their education or find work or training opportunities.
“It’s vital that these children get extra support, both inside and outside school, which is focused upon improving their well-being and resolving issues in their lives.
“The government must also urgently address the £3bn funding shortfall facing children’s services departments by 2025, which is making it harder for councils to offer children and families early support before problems spiral out of control and have a real impact on their lives, including affecting school attendance.”
There is a difference between children in need and children in care.
Parents remain responsible for a child in need, while a child in care is looked after by their local authority – either in a care home or in foster care.
The figures show that children in need are more likely than children in care to miss school for no good reason.
Some 5.0 per cent of all possible school sessions were skipped by children in care in Walsall.
The DfE data covers all primary, secondary and special-school pupils aged between five and 16.
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “The key to keeping vulnerable children in school is to offer early help to prevent problems developing when they start school, not waiting to intervene when they are already skipping school or at risk of exclusion.
“That means investing in early support for families who are struggling and need targeted help to tackle problems like domestic violence, mental health problems or substance abuse help, alongside more investment in speech and language therapy so children are not starting school unable to communicate properly and providing stability for children in care so that they’re not having to move around from one home to another and one school to another every few months.
“Talk to any child in prison, in trouble with the police or caught up in gangs and they will tell you that falling out of school was a trigger point.
“Gang members are 5.5 times more likely to have been excluded than the rest of the population. We need to do much more to keep children in school, where they have the structure, access to support and the opportunity to build relationships with trusted adults.
“I want to see a step change in the way we think about schools with a much greater focus on well-being, pastoral support and a drive to tackle off-rolling and exclusions.”
Elsewhere in the Black Country, children in need in Dudley, Sandwell and Wolverhamptom were 2.7 times more likely to skip school than those that weren’t.
Damian Hinds, Education Secretary, said: “Education is the key to unlocking potential, and we cannot ignore the stark reality of the poorer outcomes for children who face chaotic lives or have experienced trauma or adversity.
“Society shares responsibility for improving outcomes for vulnerable children.
“That is why we’ve provided practical advice to schools and social workers to adapt the way they support them, including having a consistent and trusted member of staff to talk to.
“We are also investing £84 million to support families and help provide stability at home.
“School leaders, social workers and other professionals have been responding to our Children in Need review to go further in improving outcomes and help us identify the support needed for those who need it most.”
Local authority // Unauthorised absence sessions // % of all sessions missed through unauthorised absence // One in X lessons missed through unauthorised absence
Dudley // 16,797 // 4.6 // 22
Sandwell // 25,988 // 5.1 // 20
Solihull // 7,746 // 4.3 // 23
Walsall // 16,989 // 5.7 // 18
Wolverhampton // 14,737 // 4.6 // 22