Children ‘robbed of potential by failures over suitable alternative education’ outside school

Children are being “robbed” of their potential because of failures by local authorities to provide them with suitable alternative education outside school, according to a report.

The report, titled Out of school, out of sight?, gives the example of one boy who was suffering with anxiety and therefore unable to attend school being left with no education for three months.

Another boy received just five hours a week of online tuition in English and maths for a year. There was no evidence of whether the council had considered how this would help him study all of his GCSE subjects.

One girl was left without a school place for around 14 months after she moved to a new area in the middle of the school term when no places were available, the report said.

“The key learning point we want to highlight in this report is that the local council has the duty to arrange alternative education, not the school a child attends,” Michael King, the local government and social care ombudsman, said, adding that he would hold councils to account when they failed to do so.

He said that in most cases where complaints were received about children missing education, “we often find that local authorities did something wrong”.

The report says that when children are not receiving a suitable education in school, there can be a range of factors in play, with several council departments involved, including education welfare, special educational needs and children’s social care.

“It is vitally important councils co-ordinate these services if they are to fulfil their duties and meet the needs of children missing education,” Mr King said.

The ombudsman said he was seeing increasing numbers of pupils who could not attend school because of social anxiety or because of a lack of school places in the area.

Mr King 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 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 to raise their concerns with their council as soon as they can if this does not happen.”

From April 2021 to March 2022, the ombudsman carried out 38 investigations regarding children’s alternative education arrangements out of school and upheld 34 of these (89%).

The report noted that many schools are “increasingly autonomous” because of their academy status.

In the case of a pupil who was left with no schooling for three months, most of the schools in his area were academies and therefore not under local authority (LA) control.

The report notes that despite this, LAs are ultimately responsible for pupils’ alternative education provision.

In this pupil’s case, the LA then outsourced his alternative education provision to an academy and did not have enough oversight over the education he was receiving.

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