Children fleeing domestic abuse to have priority access to school places from September

Almost one million children across the UK experience domestic abuse every year, and the impact can be devastating. Data from Hestia and Opinium found that, of millennials who experienced domestic abuse in childhood, 42 per cent had low academic performance, while 60 per cent struggled with their mental health.[1]

All too often we see children in our refuges waiting for months to get into a new school – and when they leave our refuges, it happens again.

So, we are delighted that after years of campaigning, the Government are now changing the School Admissions Code which will enable children who are fleeing domestic abuse to have priority access to school places.

From 1 September, children who are forced to move to a refuge or other ‘relevant accommodation’ to escape abuse will be eligible for consideration by the Fair Access Protocol (FAP), which helps to quickly find school places for vulnerable children.

No parent should have to make a choice between leaving an abusive relationship and their child’s education. Quick access to a school place in their new area will help prevent children from experiencing educational disadvantages and will aid their recovery.

Our campaign for children to be heard

Since the announcement of the Domestic Abuse Bill in 2017, Hestia and our UK SAYS NO MORE campaign have been working to ensure children who have experienced domestic abuse have their voices heard.

In 2018 we published our Charter on Prevention, calling for children to be seen as victims of domestic abuse in their own right, underlining the reality that children experience domestic abuse and do not just witness it. The Charter also outlined our demand for children to have priority access to school places.  

In 2019, then Education Secretary Damien Hinds announced a change to the School Admissions Code that would make it easier for children living in refuges to switch schools. However, the proposed change did not encompass children who were fleeing abuse but moving to other accommodation besides a refuge.

Last year, Hestia and domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid submitted a joint response to the consultation on the proposed changes to the Admissions Code, calling for it to include children living in other types of safe accommodation, and those who have recently moved home to flee abuse.

Our calls were supported by MPs and Parliamentarians including Tim Loughton MP and Carolyn Harris MP.

The Government recently published its response to the consultation (end of May 2021), outlining that the revised code will include children living in ‘relevant accommodation’, including refuges, specialist safe accommodation, second stage accommodation and sanctuary schemes.

We are pleased that both asks have now been agreed, and will lay the foundations for many child victims to begin to recover from their experiences.

The impact of this change

This specific amendment is crucial in ensuring that no child who has experienced domestic abuse faces gaps in their education. Many children fleeing abuse never end up in refuges, and those who are in refuges often stay for a matter of months before moving on to other accommodation, often in another new area. This change to the Admissions Code will allow both groups to access new school places more quickly and reduce any disruption to children’s education.

[1] Half of UK millennials exposed to domestic abuse in childhood