Return to blog

New research: 1 in 10 pupils missed school in the past 6 months because they felt unsafe

school pupils

A new report from The Key, in partnership with Edurio, explores feelings of safety of approximately 70,000 English school pupils – and has revealed that 1 in 10 pupils surveyed have missed school in the last 6 months due to feeling unsafe. The report, carried out as part of The Pupil Safeguarding Review, is England’s largest review into pupil feelings of safety in school and beyond.

Summary findings:

  • Nearly 1 in 10 (8%) of pupils reported feeling not very, or not at all, safe in school
  • Of the pupils that feel unsafe in school, one third (33%) report multiple instances of feeling unsafe
  • There are significant differences in feelings of safety and safety-related absences depending on pupils’ gender identity and sexual orientation
  • Only 25% of pupils that have felt unsafe at school have reported speaking to an adult at school for help or support

Access the full report here.

Dame Rachel de Souza, children’s commissioner, said:

“This research carried out by Edurio and The Key shines a light on an incredibly important issue: that for a school to provide a supportive environment, it needs to feel safe to the children attending. It is testament to the hard work of school staff who support their students and build caring school communities that 75% of children who took part in the research reported feeling safe in school. However, that leaves a quarter of children – that's eight in every class of 30 - who don’t feel safe.

“Pupil safety is paramount, and the findings from this report should make essential reading for all school leaders. It is only through understanding what leads to children feeling unsafe that effective policies and procedures can be implemented.”

The link between feelings of safety and attendance

The report found that while the majority of pupils reported feeling safe in school – 75% of all pupils surveyed – one quarter of pupils reported feeling not at all safe, not very safe, or only fairly safe. Further, amongst those pupils who felt unsafe in school, one third (33%) reported that they felt unsafe many times or all the time during that period.

As well as being an important issue to address in terms of young people’s safety and wellbeing, the report helps demonstrate the relationship between safety and attendance, with pupils who felt unsafe at school more likely to report they had missed school because they felt unsafe.

17% of pupils who felt unsafe in school reported a safety-related absence during the last 6 months, compared to 6% of pupils who said they feel safe in school and reported a safety-related absence. This shows the clear implications for pupil engagement with learning and the potential impact on pupil outcomes.

Feelings of safety and safety-related absences among underrepresented pupils

The review also provides a breakdown of the feelings of safety among different pupil demographics, including by sexual orientation and gender identity. The findings revealed that pupils who identify with a gender identity other than male or female have lower feelings of safety in school (just 48% of these pupils felt safe at school in the last 6 months, compared with 75% of pupils identifying with a binary female gender and 78% of pupils identifying with a binary male gender ). The findings also indicated that less than half of pupils identifying as homosexual (43%) or bisexual (45%) reported feeling safe at school, compared to nearly three quarters of pupils identifying as heterosexual (71%) who felt safe.

Accessing support

Importantly, the research explored pupils’ knowledge of, and trust in, access to support, finding that most pupils do know what to do if they feel unsafe. Over half (61%) of pupils who didn’t feel unsafe reported that, hypothetically, they would ask an adult at school for help if they ever felt unsafe. However, the reality is quite different, with only 25% of pupils who felt unsafe reporting that they have spoken to an adult at school.

Feelings of safety in school, out of school and online

In addition to feelings of safety at school, the review asked pupils how safe they felt online, to which 88% responded positively. This indicates that more pupils feel safe online than in school (88% online compared to 75% in school). However, the report also notes the hidden nature of online risks that could be granting young people a false sense of security, due to perhaps being less aware of the online dangers they may encounter.

Michael McGarvey, managing director at The Key, said:

“The Pupil Safeguarding Review is an important piece of research and it’s been great to collaborate with Edurio to bring new, vital insights to the sector. With the help of this research, it’s our intention that these insights can arm policymakers, educators and parents with the necessary information to take effective action to improve safeguarding practices so that together, we can help ensure no child’s education is affected due to them feeling unsafe.”

Access the full report here.

Sign up for our news briefing

The Key's weekly education sector round-up, delivered to your inbox every Friday.

Get weekly news briefing