NEW efforts to track children reported as "missing from school" could also help prevent child-trafficking and benefit fraud, councillors have been told.

In January, Bradford Council will be part of a pilot scheme with HMRC which involves the authority sharing information about children who are not attending school if officers are unable to locate them.

The council has a responsibility to make sure all children receive a suitable education, and at a meeting of its Children's Services Scrutiny Committee tonight councillors discussed what was being done to try and find these children.

A report into the situation showed that in the last school year, 2,588 children were reported, down from 3,101 in 2014/15.

Of these, 80 per cent were from Central, Western or Eastern European backgrounds, including many from a Gypsy or Roma background.

The committee was told that that council had set up a Multi Agency Education Safeguarding Team, involving the council, social workers, HMRC, charities and police to help tackle the issue.

As well as making it easier to identify where these children had gone, the report said it would be useful in "uncovering potential cases of trafficking and unlawful claims being made for children."

A similar pilot in Sheffield helped identify more than 40 per cent of missing children.

The children included in the figures are either “missing from school" -  where they are on school rolls but have gone missing along with their families, “not on roll” - where they are known to live in Bradford but aren’t on school rolls, “removed from roll” - where they have been officially taken out of school, but not re-registered at another, or have been referred to another authority.

Explaining why some children were missing from education Judith Kirk, assistant director of children's services, said: "Some families are offered a school place, but then the parents might not want their children to go to that school. They might just not send their child to school."

The report says the figures do not take into account "unknown" children, who have never been registered and who the council has no knowledge of.

Alina Khan, Strategic Manager for Education Safeguarding, said: "There are still likely to be children who are not on any rolls, who we don't have any knowledge on.

"Part of this partnership is about to establish where these 'unknowns' are in the district.

"We are aware there can be issues with trafficking and people claiming benefits for a child who doesn't live with them. As well as helping us find these missing children, this work will help us identify when people are claiming benefits fraudulently, or identify issues of trafficking."

Councillor Imran Khan, the council's executive member for education, said: "We have a responsibility for the welfare of all children, but we don't know what we don't know. We are doing all we can to try and identify these children in the district. There may well be children who have slipped through the net, but it is our responsibility to look after them once they have been identified.

"We've come a long way in tackling these issues. We know a lot more about children missing from education than we did even a few years ago."

The committee asked for an update on the situation in March, three months into the pilot with HMRC, and for more details on the average amount of time children were classed as "missing."