Councils are failing to implement adequate alternative education for the growing number of children in England who are unable to attend school due to social anxiety, according to a report by the local government ombudsman.
Many have complex special educational needs and are unable to go to school because suitable places are not available in their area, meaning months and even years can go by without any suitable alternative arrangements, according to the report.
In one case, an autistic child with extreme anxiety who was unable to attend his regular school was given only five hours a week of online English and maths classes for a year, without adequate consideration of how he might study the rest of his GSCE. subjects.
In another example, a teenage girl was without a place in school, or suitable alternative education, for almost 14 months after moving to an area in the middle of the school term, at a time when she too should have been preparing for her GCSEs.
Parents have a duty to ensure that their children receive a proper full-time education. However, according to the law, when children do not attend school due to illness, exclusion or other reason, the councils must assess and arrange to provide appropriate alternative education when necessary.
Local government and social care ombudsman Michael King warned that children were being robbed of their potential to thrive because councils were failing to carry out their responsibilities properly. Last year, the Ombudsman’s Office ratified 89% of the investigations into complaints on this subject.
“We know that establishing alternative education as early as possible is crucial to ensuring that children are not left behind by their peers, but we see examples of councils trying to pass the buck, saying it is the responsibility of the school,” King said.
“Parents need to know this is not okay. Councils have a legal obligation to properly consider what alternative education is provided when a child is unable to attend school, and it must be appropriate for the child, not a token gesture of minimum hours.”
In a separate case highlighted by the ombudsman, a mother made a complaint to Dorset council after her son, who has special educational needs, was unable to receive an education for almost two years.
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 compensation of £8,800.
“I am pleased that Dorset Council has accepted the recommendations I have made to fix things in this case,” King said. “I hope that the changes you will make in the way you track children who are out of school, and the services you provide them, will ensure that other children are not disadvantaged like this child.”
Cllr Andrew Parry, portfolio holder for children, education, skills and early help at Dorset council, apologized for the council’s failings. “We have taken these matters seriously and have made a number of changes to our services so that other families do not have to go through the same experience.”
A spokesperson for the Local Government Association, which represents more than 300 English local authorities, said: “The councils are committed to working with parents and carers to ensure their children attend a school where they receive the best possible support and education. , and they are doing their best. they can to achieve it, within the budgets available from the government”.
A Department of Education spokesman said: “Local authorities are responsible for ensuring there are enough school places for all children in their area, and we have increased high-need funding for them to £9.1bn overall next year. “, to help them meet the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities. We encourage them to work collaboratively with parents and local partners so that all children have the appropriate range of services.”