A quarter of youngsters who flee their homes do so because of problems at school, reports Warwick Mansell.
A QUARTER of child runaways say problems at school forced them to leave home, according to the largest-ever study of the problem.
A Children's Society survey has revealed that every year 100,000 children run away from home or care for at least one night - more than twice the previous estimate.
Twenty-three per cent of those who ran away cited difficulties at school as a reason for leaving, with bullying and parental pressure among the major causes of unhappiness, the charity's survey of 13,000 UK pupils under 16 found.
The link between pupils being bullied and running away appeared to be particularly strong. Twenty-three per cent of those reporting being persistently bullied at school said they ran away as a result.
The study, Still Running: children on the streets in the UK, also found that 41 per cent of runaways had been excluded from school in the past.
A total of 80 per cent of runaways said problems at home contributed to their running away, with physical violence the most common reason.
Roger Smith, who is head of policy at the Children's Society, said: "It's likely that problems at school are only one of a number of factors in children running away. But it's also true that schools are places where problems can be identified when they arise."
He said schools faced difficulties in responding. Pastoral care had lost out in the drive to raise academic standards. And the children who most needed help were often those already in trouble at school, making them reluctant to seek help from teachers.
The charity is calling for more time in personal, social and health education lessons to be devoted to the issue. It is also piloting a project where its own volunteers provide counselling in schools.
Dr Michelle Elliott, director of the child protection charity Kidscape, said schools needed to encourage children to come forward if they had problems.
She added: "The vast majority of children run away from home because of problems at home. But if they also feel they have no one to talk to at school, they are in a very vulnerable position."
The researchers found there was no significant difference between the number of young people running away from families living in poverty and those from more affluent backgrounds.
The Children's Society compiled the study with the Aberlour Child Care Trust charity in Scotland, the Extern youth justice charity in Northern Ireland and the University of York.
"Still Running: children on the streets" in the UK is available at pound;10.95 plus pamp;p. Call 020 7841 4415.