Ten-year-old Leeds girl missed nine months of primary school after council failures

Steve Walker, director of children and families at Leeds City Council
Steve Walker, director of children and families at Leeds City Council
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A distressed Leeds girl missed out on nine months of primary school after Leeds City Council policy failures, an education watchdog has ruled.

The girl started refusing to go to her primary school because of anxiety problems and the school asked her mother to take her home because she was so distressed.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said that over the next nine months the girl was given little education.

At one stage her mother had to pay for alternative education.

When the girl eventually started engaging with the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), it suggested she had sensory processing difficulties.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council failed to have a policy in place for children missing education because of ill health and that the lack of policy led to the girl’s situation ‘drifting’.

The council also failed to maintain oversight of the targeted support clusters – 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.

Leeds City Council has apologised and has 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.

Leeds City 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.

“We have welcomed the opportunity to work with the Ombudsman on this matter and have taken on board their final report and recommendations as well as taking action to resolve the issues and learn the lessons they and we have identified as a result of this case.

“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.

“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.”