Councils are not providing adequate alternative education for increasing numbers of children England who cannot attend school due to social anxiety, according to a report by the local ombudsman.
Many have complex special educational needs and cannot go to school because there are no suitable places in their area, meaning they can go months or even years without adequate alternative arrangements, the report said.
In one case, an autistic boy with extreme anxiety who was unable to attend his regular school was given just five hours a week of online English and maths tuition for a year, without proper consideration of how he might study by the end of his GSCEs. objects.
In another example, a teenager had no place at school – or a suitable alternative education – for almost 14 months after moving into an area in the middle of a school term, at a time when she was also due to prepare for her GCSEs.
Parents are obliged to provide their children with an appropriate full-time education. However, by law, when children do not attend school because of illness, exclusion or other reasons, councils must assess and take action to provide appropriate alternative education where appropriate.
Local government and welfare ombudsman Michael King has warned that children are being denied opportunities to develop because councils are failing to do their jobs properly. Last year, the ombudsman upheld 89% of complaints on this issue.
“We know that getting alternative education in place as soon as possible is critical to keeping children up to date, but we’re seeing examples of councils trying to shift responsibility for that by saying it’s the school’s responsibility,” King said. .
“Parents need to know that this is wrong. Councils have a legal duty to properly consider what alternative education is provided when a child cannot attend school, and it must be appropriate for the child – not a token gesture of a minimum number of hours.”
In a separate case brought to the attention of the ombudsman, a mother made a complaint to Dorset council after her son, who has special educational needs, missed almost two years of education.
The boy, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and features of autism, was unable to attend school due to high levels of stress and anxiety. The ombudsman found that the council failed to provide him with adequate alternative education and social support between February 2020 and November 2021. The family received £8,800 in compensation.
“I am pleased that Dorset Council has readily agreed to the recommendations I have made to rectify this matter,” King said. “I hope that the changes he makes to the way he tracks children who are out of school and the services he provides to them will ensure that other children are not disadvantaged like this child was.”
Cllr Andrew Perry, responsible for children, education, skills and early care at Dorset Council, apologized for the council’s failings. “We have taken these issues seriously and have made a number of changes to our services so that other families do not have to go through the same thing.”
A spokesman for the Local Government Association, which represents more than 300 English local authorities, said: “Councils are keen to work with parents and carers to ensure that their child attends a school where they receive the best possible support and education and are doing their best. they can achieve this within the budgets allocated by the government.’
The representative of the Ministry of Education said: “Local authorities have a responsibility to ensure that there are enough school places for all children in their area and we have increased high needs funding for them to £9.1bn in total next year to help them meet the needs of children with special educational needs and limited opportunities. . We encourage them to work with parents and local partners to ensure that the right range of services is available to all children.”