Labour is planning to use an opposition day debate motion to bring forward legislation for a new register of children who are not in school as part of plans to tackle persistent absenteeism.
New Labour analysis found that “one in three children currently sitting their GCSEs have missed nearly three months of secondary school since the pandemic” and said this was likely to affect academic attainment.
The motion will seek to take control of the parliamentary order paper to enable the passage of a children not in school (national register) bill, to create a council-maintained register of children not on the school roll.
The measure, which will cover home-schooled children, has attracted widespread support across parliament and beyond, and was included in earlier government legislation, the schools white paper, that was dropped two years ago.
Speaking in December 2022, the education secretary, Gillian Keegan, told MPs on the education committee that a register of children not in school was “a priority” but it did not feature in the king’s speech last November. Keegan reaffirmed the government’s commitment last November and is supporting Conservative MP Flick Drummond’s private members’ bill with the same aim.
Speaking before Tuesday’s motion, the shadow education secretary, Bridget Phillipson, said: “There is no time to waste if we are to tackle the biggest challenge currently facing our schools – that is why Labour’s motion is so essential, and represents the first step of our long-term plan to get to grips with persistent absence.”
Labour’s compulsory national register of home-schooled children was announced by Phillipson this month, when she laid out Labour’s plans to reduce “frankly terrifying” levels of pupil absence in schools in England in the wake of the pandemic.
It would place a legal duty on councils to keep a register of all children who are not in school and on parents to provide information about their child’s education at home. Under Labour’s plans, children in England would be given a unique number to link records held by schools, health visitors and councils to stop any child falling through the gaps.
The motion will say: “That this house condemns the secretary of state for education for her failure to tackle the crisis of persistent school absence.”
It “calls on the government to immediately introduce legislation to amend the Education Act 1996 in order to establish a mandatory duty on local authorities in England to maintain a register of eligible children not in school, as set out in part 3 of the schools bill [Lords] published in the 2022-23 parliamentary session; and therefore makes provision as set out in this order”.
Phillipson will attack the Conservatives’ record on education. “Conservative MPs, including the current schools minister and two former schools ministers, claim to support the register of children not in school but yet again have failed to deliver,” she said.
“The secretary of state has said it is her priority to legislate on a register ‘in the very short term’: that is why Labour is giving her and her Conservative colleagues an opportunity to make good on her pledge.”
A government source said: “We are committed to legislation for a children-not-in-school register and have committed to progress with this when legislative time allows.”