Ombudsman tells Suffolk County Council to improve support for children who can’t go to school

Suffolk County Council needs to make improvements “as a priority” to the way it provides alternative education to children who can’t go to school, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) has warned.

The LGSCO has told the council to again improve its services after the mother of a young girl complained her daughter was not provided with a suitable alternative education for six months after she became too anxious to attend her primary school.

The law requires councils to put in place alternative education once it becomes clear a child will be away from a school for 15 days or more, and it is the council’s responsibility to oversee attendance, not the school.

However, in this case because the council did not have a way to check attendance, it relied on the school making a referral.  It therefore missed numerous opportunities to intervene, assess the girl’s needs and provide her with a suitable education.

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

“We have issued numerous decisions about the council’s poor performance providing alternative education for children out of school for whatever reason.

“Over that time the council has agreed to make a wide range of improvements to its services. We are disappointed to have to again highlight our concerns about the council's Special Educational Needs and Disabilities  service, having made many previous recommendations for improvement in the past 18 months.

“While I acknowledge the council is making wide-scale changes to its service, I have issued this report to highlight that alternative provision needs to be improved as a priority, and those changes should have a long-term impact.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman remedies injustice and shares learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council has agreed to apologise to the mother for the delay and the failure to provide alternative provision for her daughter. It will also pay the mother a combined £1,500 for her time and trouble and her daughter’s missed education.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to review its policies and procedures around alternative education and issue guidance and reminders to appropriate staff members to ensure services are co-ordinated.

It will also carry out mandatory in-person training for all managers and staff responsible for arranging alternative provision.

Article date: 16 March 2023

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