Councils must meet their duties to home-schooled children, ombudsman says.

Local authorities must ensure they meet their duties to children being home schooled if there are any concerns about the quality of education provided, the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has said.

Councils have a duty to satisfy themselves that children who are not in the school system are receiving a suitable education. In a report into the London Borough of Richmond, a council did not act on a mother’s request that her home-educated son return to school. This meant the teenager missed out on two terms of schooling, was unable to take his GCSE exams, and lost an opportunity to go to college.

The boy was initially withdrawn from school and home educated following a series of difficult family circumstances which led to his behaviour deteriorating.

A year later, following some issues with the police, his mother asked that he return to formal education. The boy was assessed by different parts of the council’s education and social care services. Because of confusion about the teen’s education status, the Education Welfare Service sent his mother forms about home educating the boy. The mother did not respond as she had told officers she wanted him to be in school.

Throughout the next few months, a number of meetings were held to discuss what should be done about the boy’s education. The council agreed to look into a college place for him. Plans were made by the council, including the possibility of attending a variety of part- and full-time courses. But few of these plans were relayed to the boy’s mother, or acted upon.

This lack of communication between council departments and the mother led to her being sent a letter threatening her with court action because of her son’s non-attendance at a school. Yet the council had not told her he was on roll there.

The council told the Ombudsman the mother had rejected placements it had offered, but there was no evidence of this.

The teenager managed to secure employment and an apprenticeship for himself without the council’s involvement.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said:

“When councils have concerns about a child’s education or, as in this case, are alerted to a family who no longer wish to home school, they have a duty to ensure those educational needs are met.

“In Richmond, we found the departments involved did not communicate properly with each other or the boy’s mother. They agreed to carry out actions to improve the boy’s situation but didn’t take action on them.

“I am pleased the London Borough of Richmond has accepted my recommendations and has reacted positively to learning the lessons from this complaint to try to avoid a similar issue affecting others.”

To remedy the situation, the LGO has asked the council to pay the mother £2,400 in recognition of the loss of education for her son for two terms. It should also pay her £1,000 to recognise her son’s lost opportunity to go to college in September 2014 and a further £250 to recognise her time and trouble in pursuing the complaint. The money should be used by the mother for the benefit of her son’s education and training.

The council has accepted the LGO’s recommendations. It has also confirmed it has introduced a new policy and procedure document on children missing and at risk of missing education which is hoped will prevent similar faults recurring.

Article date: 03 December 2015