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Children being denied chance to thrive – Ombudsman reports

Children are all too often being robbed of the chance to fulfil their potential, because some councils are not putting in place alternative education when they need it.

If children cannot attend school for whatever reason, councils have a legal duty to assess the situation and decide if they must provide them with alternative education. But in nearly 90% of the complaints the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigates, it finds something went wrong in how this should happen.

Many of the cases the Ombudsman investigates involve children with complex special educational needs, but the organisation is seeing increasing numbers of children unable to attend school because of social anxiety – or simply because there are no school places available in the area.

Cases in the report include a child who was provided with just five hours a week online tuition in English and maths for a year, without any consideration of how this might allow him to study all his GSCE subjects.  In another case, a teenager was without a school place for nearly 14 months after moving to an area mid-term, as there were no local spaces for her.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“Time and again we see children being robbed of their potential to thrive because councils have not acted properly.

“We know getting an alternative education set up as soon as possible is crucial to ensure children do not fall behind their peers, but we see examples of councils trying to and pass the buck, saying it is the school’s responsibility. 

“Parents need to know this isn’t right. Councils have a legal obligation to properly consider what alternative education is provided when a child cannot attend school, and it must be suitable to the child – not a token gesture of the minimum hours. We would encourage parents raise their concerns with their council as soon as they can if this does not happen.”

The Ombudsman’s report is designed to help councils analyse their own alternative provision and see where improvements might be made. It offers questions local councillors can use to challenge their authorities to ensure children in their wards are provided with the best possible education and opportunities available.

Parents have a duty to ensure their children receive a suitable, full-time education and most do this by sending their children to school. However, the law says councils must make arrangements to provide suitable education for children who cannot receive education because of illness, exclusion or otherwise.

Article date: 07 July 2022