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. 

Usually, you should complain to us within 12 months of when you first knew about the problem. If you leave it any later, we may not be able to help.

For more information on how to complain, please read our step by step process.

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 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 X’s daughter has special educational needs (SEN). She complained the council failed to make alternative educational provision for her daughter after Mrs X told the council her daughter would be unable to attend school after she moved to secondary education. The council failed to offer any provision while Mrs X sought an Education Health and Care (EHC) Plan for her daughter. It also fundamentally misunderstood its duties in such circumstances. We were unable to consider the period after the council issued a final EHC Plan, because the nature of the education offered became a matter for the SEND Tribunal from that point on due to Mrs X appealing against the final Plan. However, the council agreed to apologise and pay Mrs X a total of £4300 to use for her daughter’s benefit and for the distress caused. The council also agreed to remind staff of the council’s legal duties under the Education Act 1996, and the review its policies and procedures to ensure it retains oversight and responsibility for its duties to children unable to attend school.
Mrs X’s daughter has SEN. She complained the council failed to provide suitable alternative education when her daughter was without a suitable school place. However, we found the council had named a school on her daughter’s EHC Plan that Mrs X could either have sent her daughter to or have appealed against to the SEND Tribunal. The council also offered Mrs X home tuition when the school it had named in the EHC Plan later stated it could no longer meet the child’s needs, the council checking first with Mrs X how many hours per week her daughter could cope with. Mrs X was entitled to decline to send her daughter to a school placement she found unsuitable, and to decline the council’s later offer of home tuition because she feared it would further unsettle her daughter before a permanent new place was found. However, that her daughter remained without education during this period was not fault by the council.
Miss H electively educates her son at home. She complained the council did not have a good reason to ask her to prove that the education she was providing was suitable. Although the council would in due course have sought to visit anyway, it made its request based on incorrect information about the child’s actions. It continued to ask for proof of the suitability of education even when the correct information showed it had no reason to pursue the matter. This went on for more than six months. The council threatened to issue an attendance order against Miss H. The council maintained its position after we became involved, despite our warnings that its action had no basis. Miss H could have prevented the council continuing its course by showing it the evidence she showed us. But even if she had, the council’s actions would still have caused her frustration because they were based on an allegation about her child that gave no cause for concern. The council ceased its action, apologised to Miss H and reminded its staff that what they record about parents should be factual and non-judgmental.

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.

November 2023

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