Children and Young People Statistics in the pandemic

3 August 2021
Last updated:
3 August 2021

Our findings - Vulnerability

There are some examples of statistics on the most vulnerable children

Some of the new statistics outputs produced during the pandemic have made efforts to separately identify the most vulnerable children in their data.  NHS Digital’s Mental Health for Children and Young People Survey included breakdowns by whether a child was unlikely to have a mental disorder, possibly had a mental health disorder or probably had a mental disorder. This allows for a degree of analysis of outcomes for more vulnerable groups of children.

The Department for Education’s statistics on school attendance in England also included some vulnerable groups. In a rapid review of these statistics, which we conducted last year, we commended the treatment of vulnerable children in the data. Since our review, statistics on the attendance of children eligible for free school meals (FSM) and the attendance of students at further education colleges have been included. There are also breakdowns for pupils with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) and those with a social worker.


The limitations in recording vulnerable groups are acknowledged

In both of these examples producers also made efforts to highlight the limitations associated with reporting on vulnerable groups.

In the NHS Digital Mental Health Survey, there is a good degree of transparency regarding the limitations associated with the higher non-response rate identified amongst children and young people who were at a greater risk of mental disorders. A non-response adjustment was introduced to account for this, but the report still acknowledges that the estimates of mental disorders given may be an underrepresentation of the actual rates.

Our rapid review of Department for Education’s statistics found their bulletin to be transparent around the possible undercounting of vulnerable children. More detail has since been added on the limitations of counting children with a social worker, who are likely to be overestimated in the attendance figures.


Official statistics sometimes risk excluding the most vulnerable

A number of official statistics surveys are sampled on a household basis, which means they exclude children in care, or those not living in private households. This risks excluding children who are at higher risk of being vulnerable from the statistics.

The ONS Schools Infection Survey excludes special schools, pupil referral units and further education colleges due to the purpose of the study and the potential difficulties in administering it in these institutions. However, these are institutions where vulnerable children and young people are likely to be overrepresented. In addition to this, enrolment for both the pupil and parent surveys was only available online. Whilst email is often the main method of schools communicating with parents, this approach risks excluding vulnerable children who do not have full access to digital technologies outside of the school environment.

An October 2020 research report by the Department for Education identified that there have been substantial gaps in the evidence base for how experiences of remote education have varied for children and young people with particular characteristics including sex, ethnicity, LGBT and economic or social disadvantage.

Since then, research commissioned by the Department for Education has provided some initial analysis of lost learning by pupil characteristics (such as eligibility for free school meals, and pupil ethnicity). By comparing results achieved in assessments by pupils in the first half of the 2020/21 autumn term to pupils in previous years, the research was able to provide an estimate of the level of learning loss. More recent results have also covered assessments carried out in the second half of the autumn term in 2020/21, in order to provide an initial indication of whether pupils had started to make up for the ‘lost learning’ identified in the first report. This research was based on commercially available assessments, rather than statutory ones, and will not have been completed by all schools.

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