Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 500 - 519)

TUESDAY 25 MARCH 2008

MR JOHN GASKIN, MS KATH TUNSTALL AND MR JOHN FREEMAN

  Q500  David Davies: Not only are 27 missing but, also, presumably, that figure does not include children who have gone on extended leave. How many are actually on extended leave and, to your knowledge, have been taken out of the country?

  Mr Gaskin: I could get you those figures. I do not have those figures with me. I can tell—

  Q501  David Davies: Obviously, what we are investigating is the forced marriage, abduction and rape, effectively, of young girls, and many of them will have been taken on extended leave and the reason given will have been that they were going abroad, because there will not be many other reasons acceptable, will there? Is it fair to assume that all those on extended leave will have been taken abroad?

  Mr Gaskin: It is not fair to assume that all of them on extended leave are abroad, no.

  Q502  David Davies: But most of them.

  Mr Gaskin: It may well be, and I would need to get the breakdown of numbers.

  Q503  David Davies: Are we talking about over 100 on extended leave, do you think?

  Mr Gaskin: Again, I would not like to speculate. I can tell you that we have—

  Q504  David Davies: I am sorry if my tone does not sound as warm and friendly as it should, but it is a serious matter.

  Mr Gaskin: There are, at the moment, 15 pupils on the out-of-school roll, removed from roll after extended leave—seven of those have been on for two months or more. I can tell you that as on 19 March, in terms of breakdown of gender and ethnicity—and we have not been asked for any numbers by gender or ethnicity—so all the figures—

  Q505  Chairman: Not been asked by the Department?

  Mr Gaskin: No. All the figures that have been bandied around in the press that assume these are all girls—it is incorrect.

  Q506  Chairman: Are you going to give us the correct picture?

  Mr Gaskin: As at 19 March, in relation to secondary age pupils, there were no girls who are on the register because they have been removed from roll for extended leave. There are no secondary-aged girls on the register.

  Q507  David Davies: But there are girls—

  Mr Gaskin: There are some "missing from education" who are girls.

  Q508  David Davies: And there are some who are on extended leave who are girls. Until you mentioned it, we have not looked at those on extended leave as being part of the problem. We have looked at those who have not returned from extended leave, but clearly those who are on extended leave are very relevant to this issue. So I think we would appreciate figures on that, with perhaps a breakdown of the sex and ethnicity as well, if possible.

  Mr Gaskin: Which I can provide, yes.

  Q509  David Davies: What are you doing to try and identify where those who are missing actually are?

  Mr Gaskin: We follow all the procedures that are required. So if a school reports that a pupil is no longer at school and they do not know where they are, they are asked to make reasonable inquiries, and it is referred to the Education and Social Work Service that visits their last known address. If after four weeks there cannot be any trace found of those pupils then their details are uplifted to the missing children's database at the DCSF. In relation to children who have not returned from extended leave, inquiries are made at the address and inquiries are also made, where possible, with extended family members to see whether or not they have any information about when the families will be returning.

  Q510  Chairman: The reason why Mr Davies is pressing you on these figures is because the figures, originally, came from the Minister, and we were unclear then what they all meant. I have to say I think it is unsatisfactory; I am still unclear about precisely what all these figures mean, and I think we need these figures as soon as possible. What Mr Davies is asking is: what inquiries are then undertaken by the Department?

  Mr Gaskin: By the DCSF?

  Q511  Chairman: By yourselves. That is why you are here. The DCSF has nothing to do with us; it is all up to Bradford. What is Bradford doing about it?

  Mr Gaskin: I will try again. I am sorry if I am not being clear, Chairman. When a notification is made by a school that a pupil has gone missing—they did not know where they were going and they have just left—inquiries are made at the last known address to see whether or not there is anybody there. After a month the details of that child are uplifted on to the DCSF database. We check regularly on that database to see whether or not another school anywhere in the country has downloaded—

  Q512  Chairman: The Committee understands that. I think the concern we have is that we have been given information by the Minister and we are no clearer as to where this information leads us. How many children are you currently concerned about in respect of these matters? Are there any concerns about any of these children or are you absolutely satisfied everything is fine?

  Mr Gaskin: If you mean in terms of concerns about whether or not any crimes have been committed, part of the process which the Education and Social Work Service goes through is to look at the individual cases and assess against the criteria in the statutory guidance—

  Q513  Chairman: We understand that.

  Mr Gaskin:—whether or not there is any concern about a crime—

  Q514  Chairman: Are you concerned today, on 25 March?

  Mr Gaskin: No, no.

  Q515  Chairman: No concerns about any of the children?

  Mr Gaskin: We do not have any concerns about whether or not any of those are victims of crime. We do, as part of our process, after two weeks, write to health, the police and social care to ask them if they have any information about those pupils. We repeat that a month later.

  Q516  David Davies: Once those children have reached the age of 16 and are legally eligible to leave education, do they then go off the radar?

  Mr Freeman: The position on that is that they are no longer children missing education.

  Q517  David Davies: So, basically, a child disappears at the age of 15, inquiries are made for a month or so and then the child's name is put on to a database at DCFS, but as soon as that child's 16th birthday is reached it does not matter whether they are never heard of again—nobody will actually be looking for them.

  Mr Freeman: From the point of view of statutory education, that is correct. Of course, safeguarding concerns remain, but in terms of the database of children who are in statutory education they will not be on that because they are past the age.

  Q518  David Davies: I understand that. What is the age of the youngest missing child?

  Mr Gaskin: I believe it is six.

  Chairman: We need to move on now to the next set of questions.

  Q519  Mr Winnick: Mr Gaskin, if we can just clarify the position. You say it is now 27 children who are missing from secondary schools for more than two months. Is that the position?

  Mr Gaskin: It is 27 pupils in secondary and primary in the two categories—


 
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