Mark Whitehead 08 August 2019

Council apologises after anxious girl misses months of school

Leeds City Council left a young girl without proper education for nine months after she started refusing to go to her primary school because of anxiety, the ombudsman has found.

The girl who was ten was given little education and was eventually told she had sensory processing difficulties and was recommended for diagnostic tests.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman's investigation found 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’ and the council also failed to maintain oversight of local groups set up to oversee the council’s duties to children out of education.

This meant the council wasn’t informed at the earliest stage the girl was not attending school.

The council has agreed to review the way it oversees services for children and young people out of school and provide training and guidance to staff, schools and services.

It will also create a policy for children missing education for medical needs and review the educational provision in place for children who have not attended school for more than 15 days.

Michael King, local government and social care ombudsman, said: 'Councils have a legal duty to provide suitable alternative provision for children and young people who are missing education for whatever reason.

'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.

’I welcome Leeds City Council’s commitment to agreeing to my recommendations and hope the processes it will put in place will ensure other children will not be disadvantaged in a similar way in future.'

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.

'This 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 both from the school and early help plans from the cluster on behalf of the council, and with a multi-agency approach put in place to try and reach a resolution.’

Mr Walker added: ‘This was a case with a wide variety of complex issues; not least of which is the lack of clarity around the 1996 Education Act in interpreting the role and remit of the local authority and what it classed as a ‘suitable’ education; and as such we welcome the recent findings to government in the landmark Timpson review which we hope will provide greater clarity and understanding around this, and more power for councils for oversight and direct action which we believe would have been beneficial in this case.’

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