One in 10 pupils in England have missed school in the last six months because they have felt unsafe, according to the findings of a large-scale survey.
The report, which is based on a poll of 70,000 English schoolchildren aged 7-18, looks at the connection between children feeling safe in school and attendance levels, which have fallen since the pandemic.
It found pupils are most likely to feel unsafe in corridors and playgrounds, mainly because of other children, though 13% said it was because of a teacher. Of those who felt unsafe, one-third cited multiple instances, but only 25% of those who felt unsafe spoke to someone at school.
Overall, three-quarters (75%) of the children who took part in the research said they felt “very” or “quite” safe at school, but a quarter (25%) said they only felt “fairly”, “not very”, or “not at all” safe, with older children more likely to feel unsafe.
About 85% of primary pupils in years 3 to 6 said they felt quite or very safe, which declined to 76% with the move to secondary school in year 7, and then went down further in years 8-11 when just 60% of pupils said they felt safe.
The report said pupils “with a gender identity other than male or female” had lower feelings of safety in school (48% felt safe compared with 75% of girls and 78% of boys) and less than half of gay (43%) or bisexual (45%) pupils reported feeling safe at school, compared with 71% of heterosexual pupils.
Pupils were more likely to feel safe out of school than in school (78% v 75%), but an even greater proportion felt safe online (88%), despite adult concerns about what their children are being exposed to. Asked which website they were on when they felt unsafe, 15% were on Roblox, 12% on Snapchat, 7% on TikTok and 6% on Instagram.
Ministers are concerned about school attendance, with more pupils absent than before the Covid pandemic. Recent figures show secondary schools are worst affected, with pupils missing more than 9% of classroom time in the first term of the latest academic year, compared with an average of about 5.4% in the five years between 2014 and 2019.
Dame Rachel de Souza, the children’s commissioner for England, said: “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 report was conducted by Edurio and The Key education support services. Leora Cruddas, the chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, said: “These findings are at once both reassuring and concerning.”