Education other than at school

This fact sheet is aimed at parents who are experiencing problems with their child being educated at other than at school and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

The council will not provide my child with home tuition. Can the Ombudsman help me?

In some cases, yes. A child might receive tuition at home, rather than attending a school, if the child is on the roll of a school but for some reason, usually illness, he or she is unable to attend that school for a specific period.

Government guidance sets out the minimum national standard for the education of children who are unable to attend school because of medical needs. That guidance recognises that in some cases councils will arrange for sick children to receive home tuition. Councils may also provide tuition in other locations appropriate for the child, for example a tuition centre. That tuition must be full time unless the child is unable to cope with full-time tuition.

The council says I can't educate my child at home. Can the Ombudsman help me?

In some cases, yes. However, the law does not currently allow the Ombudsman to become involved in internal school matters. So, if for example you are not satisfied with things at your child’s school and you decide to remove your child from that school and educate him or her at home, we would not be able to look at any difficulties you had with the school. 

If a council considers that a child is not receiving suitable education it can serve a notice on parents requiring them to satisfy the council that their child is receiving suitable education. It can also take legal action and could serve a School Attendance Order. The Ombudsman cannot look at what goes on in court.

How do I complain?

You should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint. We may consider accepting a complaint before the council's own procedures are exhausted, but only if exceptional circumstances apply.

Then, if you are unhappy with the outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – we think 12 weeks is reasonable – you can complain to us. 

You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.

For more information on how to complain, visit our contact page or complete an online complaint form.

If you consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

If you are educating your child at home and it appears to the the council they are not receiving suitable education, it might ask you to provide details of the work your child is doing so it can decide. We could look at complaints where:

  • the council has breached government guidance, or its own policies in checking the educational provision you are making for your child, or
  • the council has not responded appropriately to any requests for guidance about home education you made.

If your child is unable to attend school and the council is not providing the tuition you believe it should we could look at complaints where:

  • the council has failed to make the minimum provision
  • there has been an unreasonable delay in providing tuition
  • the council has failed to monitor and review the level of tuition that is provided, or
  • the council refuses to provide tuition.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds the council was at fault?

We may ask the council to reassess your child’s situation and, if appropriate, to provide tuition.

We may ask the council to apologise for any delay in providing tuition and in some cases we may recommend a compensatory payment.

We may ask the council to review its procedures about how it deals with people who choose to educate their children at home.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mrs C’s son has SEN. She complained the council failed to make alternative educational provision for her son for more than a year after he was excluded from his primary school. The council failed to challenge the school when it carried out an informal permanent exclusion in breach of the School Exclusions Code 2017. It then took more than a year to find her son another school and offered nothing more than small-scale play therapy in the interim. The council agreed to apologise and pay Mrs C £4200.
Ms P’s daughter has SEN. She complained the council’s failure to deal with her daughter’s needs properly led to the child being out of education for a year. However, while the council was at fault in other matters, it was Ms P who withdrew her daughter from school after an incident with another child. The council offered alternative education at the school, but Ms P declined it, choosing instead to pay for private tuition. We found no fault in the way the council acted in offering alternative education

Other sources of information

The Advisory Centre for Education

Department for Education

Education Otherwise Helpline numbers: 08445 867542; 08445 867543 or 08445 867544

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

We provide a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result we aim to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

October 2019