Not enough local scrutiny of Cornwall’s outsourced education services to out-of-school children, Ombudsman says

18 Feb 2021 12:39 PM

Cornwall Council will look into the cases of all children not attending school to ensure they are receiving a suitable alternative education, following an investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman was asked to investigate, after a boy was not provided with appropriate alternative education for a number of months when he was not able to attend mainstream school because of mental health problems.

In Cornwall, alternative education provision for children with health concerns is outsourced to the Wave Multi-Academy Trust and education is provided by the Community and Hospital Education Service (CHES), an academy.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council did not have enough oversight of the process both schools in the county – including academies – and the council itself must follow when a child is out of education for a period.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council relies on schools to make referrals to CHES, and for CHES to decide whether the council has a duty to provide education. In this case the council could not show it had considered the boy’s needs for the period he was out of education – March to July 2019. As the council is ultimately responsible for outsourced services, the Ombudsman has found it at fault.

It also found the council delayed the process by not directing CHES to provide education, and instead asking his school to make a referral to CHES, and so the boy missed out on education.

During the investigation, the Ombudsman also found the council was wrongly suggesting the boy’s school was responsible for monitoring his education through CHES. The council’s approach appears to make the school responsible for monitoring the council’s own performance of its statutory duty.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, yesterday said:

“Because the council did not have proper oversight of the process, the boy was left without education for four months. The council relied on schools to make decisions for which it had a statutory duty to make.

“While councils can contract out services to independent providers, they cannot contract out responsibility and remain ultimately answerable for any problems which may occur.

“I’m pleased Cornwall Council has accepted all my recommendations and hope the changes it will now make will improve services and accountability for those services for young people in the county.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council has agreed to apologise to the boy and his father and make a symbolic payment of £1,200 to acknowledge the education he has missed.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to review its policies and procedures to ensure it retains oversight and responsibility for its duties to children unable to attend school. It will also conduct an audit of children not attending school or not attending full-time, to ensure they are receiving suitable education and the council is meeting its duties towards them.