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 complained about the way a council acted when it learned of her intention to withdraw her son from school and educate him at home. The council’s procedures (which it applied to Mrs C and her son) require parents to submit their proposals to it in advance for approval. When the council learned of Mrs C’s intention to educate her son at home it informed her that it should approve, in advance, the education which she proposed to provide for a child otherwise than in school. The law says that a council has a part to play only after education otherwise than in school has begun and it appears to the council that the education is not suitable. So there is no need for an application or any issue for the council to address in advance. In this case the council responded inappropriately to Mrs C’s decision to educate her son at home. This was a decision for Mrs C and not for the council, but the council was less than frank about this. The council’s role was confined to ensuring the education was suitable once it had begun. The Ombudsman asked the council to apologise to Mrs C for its actions, review its procedures in the light of the relevant law and Government guidance, and pay Mrs C £100 to recognise her time and trouble in complaining and her avoidable anxiety and uncertainty. The council agreed to take these steps.
Mr J’s daughter was bullied both at and outside School K and he withdrew her from the school. Some of the bullying had been treated as criminal incidents by the police. Mr J wanted his daughter to attend a school in another area to avoid any further contact with the perpetrators. He initially decided to educate his daughter at home, and his letter to School K had confirmed this, but neither he nor School K informed the council. He later made applications to the council for places at the schools he preferred. It was only then that the council became aware that his daughter had no educational provision. The law requires that a council make alternative educational provision where a child is likely to be out of education for more than three weeks, but it does not specify how that provision should be made. The council processed the applications, but was unable to offer a place as the schools were all full. The only school where a place was available was School K, where the child had been bullied, so it did not consider it appropriate to offer her a place there. It offered Mr J a right of appeal against the refusals at his preferred schools. It also made an interim offer of a place at a short-stay school to ensure that his daughter received education. Mr J chose not to exercise his right of appeal against the refusals of places. He also refused to send his daughter to the short-stay school on the grounds that children with behavioural difficulties were also pupils there. He complained to the Ombudsman that the council had failed to provide tuition for his daughter. We considered that the council had responded appropriately to Mr J’s applications for school places as soon as it was made aware that the child was out of education. His decision not to exercise his right of appeal deprived him of a possible remedy as an independent panel might have offered a place. The council had also fulfilled its legal duty by offering his daughter full-time tuition at the short-stay school while it attempted to find a permanent school place for the child. The council had therefore not been at fault.

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.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman provides 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 the Ombudsman aims to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

October 2018