Robert Halfon says 100,000 ‘ghost children’ must return to school
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Conservative MP Robert Halfon told the Commons on Tuesday: “This tragedy happened when Arthur was not in school and being kept at home by his father. Putting aside the 200,000 children who the school system knows about who are being sent home through Covid, there are another 100,000 of what I call the ‘ghost children’ who are lost to the system or haven’t returned to school.”
He added that they are subject to potentially safeguarding hazards, county lines gangs, online harm and “awful” domestic abuse.
Mr Halfon urged Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi that MPs would not have to discuss again the same issues or witness another tragedy, calling on the minister to work with local authorities, schools and regional commissioners to make sure those 100,000 children are returned to classrooms and watched by the relevant authorities.
The Chairman of the Education Select Committee said: “We have to get these back in school otherwise we will face, and I hope not, we will face further tragedies along the way.”
Mr Zahawi said the issue was a concern and focus for the Department for Education.
He added that he was working closely with other departments and agencies to address the issue, pointing to the See, Hear, Respond programme which is aimed at supporting vulnerable children separated from support and struggling as a result of the pandemic.
Mr Zahawi added: “The tragedy for Arthur is he wasn’t ever off the school register, but nevertheless the point the Chairman of the Education Select Committee makes is a powerful one.”
In a Tweet afterwards, Mr Halfon, who represents Harlow in Essex, said: “The death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes is truly devastating.
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“It is believed that there are another 100,000 ghost children who are lost in the system.
“They [have] not returned to school for the most part, and are potentially subject to safeguarding hazards.
“This must be dealt with”.
Little Arthur, from Solihull in the West Midlands, suffered a fatal brain injury at the hands of his stepmother on 16 June last year.
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Emma Tustin and Thomas Hughes, his father, have both been jailed.
She was ordered to serve a minimum of 29 years behind bars for the murder while Hughes was sentenced to 21 years for manslaughter.
A crowd gathered to pay their respects to the six-year-old at a vigil in Solihull on Sunday.
Kerry Vines, of Cranmore Road where Arthur died, spoke of what it meant to stage the event.
She said: “It’s about showing Arthur that we are all thinking of him, and he was a very loved little boy.
“It will also be a celebration of his life.
“He finally got the justice he deserved.”
A huge football fan, Arthur had been pictured wearing a Birmingham City shirt.
Aston Villa sent a message of tribute during a minute’s applause.
The club tweeted: “Villa Park unites with a minute’s applause in memory of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes.
“We all love you, Arthur.”
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