Suffolk County Council (18 008 401)

Category : Education > Other

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 31 May 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms M’s son, B, has missed a considerable amount of education following his permanent exclusion from school in June 2017, but this is not the result of fault by the Council. The Council offered B a place at a Pupil Referral Unit, but Ms M chose to apply for school places instead. There are no grounds for the Ombudsman to question the Council’s offer.

The complaint

  1. Ms M complains her son, B, has missed education following his exclusions from school and college.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decisions are right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with them. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decisions were reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  2. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
  3. We cannot investigate complaints about what happens in schools or colleges. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5, paragraph 5(b), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered:
    • information provided by Ms M;
    • information provided by the Council;
    • the Education Act 1996; and
    • the Education (Provision of Full-Time Education for Excluded Pupils) (England) Regulations 2007.
  2. I invited Ms M and the Council to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. In March 2017, B’s school arranged a managed move to give him a fresh start at a new school. He was disengaged and disruptive in class. The Council’s Local Offer Broker and the In-year Fair Access Panel were involved.
  2. The managed move was not a success. B was permanently excluded from secondary school in June 2017.
  3. The Council offered B a place at a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU). Ms M declined. The Council arranged home tuition instead: five hours per week of maths, English and science until the end of term.
  4. The Council arranged for B to attend a college course studying construction English and Maths for 14 – 16 year olds from September 2017.
  5. B was permanently excluded from college in January 2018.
  6. The Council offered B a place at a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) again. Ms M declined and said she wanted to explore other options first. She said she intended to apply for a place for B at a secondary school.
  7. Ms M says she spoke to the Council on 20 February and requested tuition, but the Council told her this was not available while she was applying for school places.
  8. Ms M applied for places at two secondary schools, but both refused to admit B as he had been permanently excluded from two previous schools.
  9. Following Ms M’s unsuccessful attempts to secure a school place for B, the Council made an application to the Fair Access Panel in April 2018. The Fair Access Panel arranges school places for hard-to-place children, including those who have been excluded from two schools. The Panel meets once a month.
  10. The Council began to arrange home tuition on 8 May 2018.
  11. A secondary school offered B a place following the May meeting of the Fair Access Panel.
  12. Ms M is unhappy with her dealings with the schools and the college from which B was permanently excluded, and with her dealings with the Council to secure education for B.

Education for children who do not attend school

  1. Councils must “make arrangements for the provision of suitable education at school or otherwise than at school for those children of compulsory school age who, by reason of illness, exclusion from school or otherwise, may not for any period receive suitable education unless such arrangements are made for them.” (Education Act 1996, section 19(1))
  2. Suitable education means efficient education suitable to a child’s age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs he may have. (Education Act 1996, section 19(6)) The Council must consider the individual circumstances of each particular child and be able to demonstrate how it made its decision.
  3. The education provided by the Council must be full-time unless the Council determines that full-time education would not be in the child’s best interests for reasons of the child’s physical or mental health. (Education Act 1996, section 3A and 3AA)
  4. In the case of exclusion, the Council must provide education from the sixth school day following a child’s permanent exclusion from school. (Education (Provision of Full-Time Education for Excluded Pupils) (England) Regulations 2007)

Consideration

  1. The Ombudsman cannot investigate complaints about schools and colleges. We can only consider complaints about the Council.
  2. The Council was responsible for B’s education from the sixth school day following his permanent exclusion. B was permanently excluded from school in June 2017. The Council offered B a place at a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU). The Council says the Local Offer Broker had been involved with B’s unsuccessful managed move and considered the Pupil Referral Unit would be suitable. There are no grounds for me to question the Council’s decision.
  3. Ms M refused the Council’s offer of a place for B at the Pupil Referral Unit. The Council provided five hours of home tuition a week instead. The Council said five hours was generally offered at the time, depending on the availability of tutors.
  4. Where councils arrange home tuition, the Ombudsman expects them to assess the pupil’s needs and tailor provision to meet those needs. Failure to do so would be fault. Councils should provide full-time education unless this would be unsuitable. Government guidance recognises that one-to-one tuition is more concentrated, so children could receive fewer hours of face-to-face contact.
  5. Although B only received five hours of home tuition per week following his permanent exclusion from school, I do not consider the Council was at fault. The Council had offered B a place at a PRU. This fulfilled the Council’s duty to provide education. The Courts have ruled that the Council, not the parent, must decide what is suitable education. There are no grounds for me to question the Council’s decision the PRU was suitable. The Ombudsman cannot question decisions taken without fault, no matter how much Ms M disagrees. B did not receive full-time education, but this was not the result of fault by the Council.
  6. B then attended college from September 2017 until January 2018 when he was permanently excluded. His education once again became the responsibility of the Council. The Council offered B a place at the PRU, but Ms M said she wanted to apply for school places instead. There are no grounds for me to question the Council’s decision.
  7. Ms M applied for school places without success. In May 2018, the Council arranged home tuition. Ms M complains about the education B missed between his permanent exclusion in January 2018 and the start of tuition in May 2018. The Council had offered B a place at a PRU in January 2018. This fulfilled the Council’s duty to provide education. There are no grounds for me to question the Council’s decision the PRU was suitable. B missed out on education, but this was not the result of fault by the Council.
  8. The Council could have prosecuted Ms M when she decided not to send B to the PRU. It did not. It provided tuition and pursued alternative avenues to secure B’s return to school, including the college and the Fair Access Panel. B secured a new school place at a meeting of the Fair Access Panel in May 2018.

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Final decision

  1. I have ended my investigation. B has missed a considerable amount of education, but this is not the result of fault by the Council.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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