A young girl was left without proper education for nine months after she started refusing to go to her primary school because of anxiety, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.
Now Leeds City Council has agreed to pay £2,900 to the girl’s mother – after its failures led to her having to find and pay for a temporary alternative-provision place.
The girl, who was 10 when the events started, became increasingly anxious about going to school – until the school asked her mother to take her home in March 2018 because she was so distressed.
The girl did not return to school after the Easter break, although she remained on the school's roll, and received little education over the next nine months.
Initially the girl had refused to engage with child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) and the council argued that its duty to provide education was directly linked to having medical evidence from a medical consultant or Camhs practitioner that a young person is unable to access education because of illness.
Council policy failure
So the girl’s mother privately arranged and paid for a placement for her daughter at a youth development programme in October 2018.
When the girl eventually started engaging with Camhs in December, the service suggested she had sensory processing difficulties and recommended an assessment for autism.
The girl’s school said it had been advised that the pupil tuition service could provide up to five hours a week. The referral was accepted and the girl began education again in February 2019.
The ombudsman’s investigation found that the council failed to have a policy in place for children missing education because of ill health. This lack of policy led to the girl’s situation “drifting”.
The council also failed to maintain oversight of the local groups that were set up to oversee the council’s duties to children out of education.
This meant the council wasn’t informed at the earliest stage that the girl was not attending school.
“Councils have a legal duty to provide suitable alternative provision for children and young people who are missing education for whatever reason,” Michael King, the local government and social care ombudsman, said
“In this case, Leeds City Council did not have the proper processes in place, and the lack of a policy resulted in a young girl missing nine months of formal education. Instead of receiving an alternative at the earliest possible time, her case was left to drift.”
The ombudsman said the council had agreed to pay the mother £1,300 to cover the cost of her daughter’s education over the period. It will also pay her £1,400 for failing to assess her daughter’s needs or provide education between May 2018 and October 2018, and a further £200 for the time and trouble of bringing the complaint to the ombudsman.
The council has agreed to review the way it oversees services for children and young people out of school and create a policy for children missing education for medical needs. It will also review the educational provision in place for children who have not attended school for more than 15 days.
Steve Walker, director of children and families at Leeds City Council, said: “We want the best for all our children and young people in Leeds, and try to do everything in our power to support them to reach their full potential in education and in life. We recognise that in this case we did not do enough, and therefore I would like to apologise to the girl and her family for this."
He said that it was "an incredibly challenging case, and it is important to note that at all times professionals were in contact with and supporting the girl and her family with continued learning and support".
Mr Walker added: “The girl has been for some time prior to publication of this report in receipt of a suitable education, and also now has an educational health care plan, which we hope will help her as she takes the next step on her educational journey in September.”