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Ombudsman warns councils on duties towards home-schooled children

The Local Government Ombudsman has called on local authorities to ensure they meet their duty to satisfy themselves that children who are not in the school system are receiving a suitable education.

The LGO’s comments came after an investigation into a case involving the London Borough of Richmond.

The local authority was found not to have acted on a mother’s request that her home-educated son return to school.

According to the Ombudsman, this meant the teenager “missed out on two terms of schooling, was unable to take his GCSE exams, and lost an opportunity to go to college”.

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The boy had initially been withdrawn from school and home educated following a series of difficult family circumstances which led to his behaviour deteriorating.

A year later, following some issues with the police, his mother asked that he return to formal education.

The boy was assessed by different parts of Richmond’s education and social care services. Because of confusion about his education status, the Education Welfare Service sent his mother forms about home educating the boy. The mother did not respond as she had told officers she wanted him to be in school.

The LGO found that throughout the next few months, a number of meetings were held to discuss what should be done about the boy’s education.

Richmond agreed to look into a college place for him. Plans were made by the council, including the possibility of attending a variety of part- and full-time courses. But few of these plans were relayed to the boy’s mother, or acted upon, the Ombudsman found.

“This lack of communication between council departments and the mother led to her being sent a letter threatening her with court action because of her son’s non-attendance at a school. Yet the council had not told her he was on roll there,” the LGO said.

Richmond told the Ombudsman the mother had rejected placements it had offered, but the LGO said it had found no evidence of this.

The teenager eventually managed to secure employment and an apprenticeship for himself without the council’s involvement.

The LGO's report concluded that Richmond had failed to: take a co-ordinated approach to the boy’s education; inform the complainant, his mother, of its decisions; and fulfil its duties to provide the boy with suitable education.

Finding fault causing injustice, the Ombudsman recommended that the council pay the mother:

  • £2,400 to recognise the loss of education for her son for two terms;
  • £1,000 to recognise her son’s lost opportunity to go to college in September 2014; and
  • £250 to recognise her time and trouble in pursuing the complaint.

The money should be used by the mother for the benefit of her son’s education and training.

The council has accepted the recommendations. It has also confirmed that it has introduced a new policy and procedure document on children missing and at risk of missing education which is hoped will prevent similar faults recurring.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said: “When councils have concerns about a child’s education or, as in this case, are alerted to a family who no longer wish to home school, they have a duty to ensure those educational needs are met.

“In Richmond, we found the departments involved did not communicate properly with each other or the boy’s mother. They agreed to carry out actions to improve the boy’s situation but didn’t take action on them.

“I am pleased the London Borough of Richmond has accepted my recommendations and has reacted positively to learning the lessons from this complaint to try to avoid a similar issue affecting others.”

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