An ombudsman’s report about a parent’s educational complaint in Central Bedfordshire is likely to provide a vital lesson for councils everywhere, a meeting heard.
The findings have been passed on to all local authorities, a meeting of Central Bedfordshire Council’s children’s services overview and scrutiny committee was told.
“The issue investigated by the ombudsman relates to a complaint the council didn’t provide alternative education for a child unable to attend school for medical reasons,” according to CBC’s assistant director of education Peter Fraser.
Executive member for families, education and children Sue Clark said: “The ombudsman’s findings are likely to have far-reaching implications for all councils in England.
“That’s why this report has been published and circulated to all local authorities. There’s a request also for it to go to all schools in our area.
“The ombudsman has found the council should have acted more promptly without question, instead of placing the responsibility of providing education on the school.
“This case puts more onus on councils across the country to be more proactive and to ensure the alternative education provision is in place in a timely manner.
“The ombudsman does acknowledge it’s such a common occurrence that it points to systemic problems not just locally, but nationwide.”
CBC’s executive must consider the ombudsman’s report and confirm within three months the action it has taken, or proposes to take, in response to each of the 12 recommendations it contains.
The committee was reviewing the findings ahead of Tuesday’s (12 October 2021) executive meeting.
Mr Fraser explained: “The weaknesses of the system are that it wasn’t really joined up. The child has been let down by the council, but also by the school, and by health services.
“So we need the whole systemic approach to this and we work more closely together.
“The focus is on what the council should have done at that particular time and we accept those findings. It wasn’t good enough and we need to change what we’re doing.
“We need to be mindful at the centre of all this was a child and the provision of that child’s education.
“That’s what we want to move forward on and make sure we get in right in future.“
Conservative Heath and Reach councillor Mark Versallion asked: “In reality would we not have gone in there anyway? We shouldn’t stand on ceremony.
“If there’s a child who’s persistently absent whether it’s an academy or not we should have gone in and looked. And you’re saying that’s been implemented.”
Mr Fraser said: “Certainly that’s what the ombudsman concluded that we knew the child’s attendance was poor and should have stepped in.
“We changed our policies and practices. We’ve invested in our team. That’s been implemented from September 1.
“From a legal viewpoint we don’t have any authority to step in. It needs to be an invitation from the school.
“We did take the unusual step of writing to the headteacher and had asked the school to make a referral. That’s quite unusual to do that, but we needed to in this particular case.”
One of the recommendations was “to review all of the cases for pupils out of school for whatever reason“, he added.
“That’s contained in the action plan and we’re determined to complete before the three-month deadline allowed by the ombudsman.”
Independent Biggleswade South councillor Hayley Whitaker referred to the number of cases, saying: “This isn’t a one off. There are so many more. We have to stop blaming a lack of finances for what are our failings.”