One Legal Sept 21 Director 600

Slide background

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

Cornwall Council failed to provide a boy with appropriate alternative education for a number of months when he was not able to attend mainstream school because of mental health problems, an investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) has found.

The investigation has led to Cornwall agreeing to look into all cases where children are not attending school after the watchdog found the boy was left without schooling because the council did not have proper oversight of the process by which schools monitor poor attendance.

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.

While investigating the boy's complaint, the Ombudsman 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.

According to the Ombudsman, the council relies on schools to make referrals to CHES. It also relies on 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 found it at fault.

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

During the investigation, the Ombudsman also discovered the council was wrongly suggesting the boy's school was responsible for monitoring his education through CHES. According to the report, 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, 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."

In response to the investigation, Cornwall 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.

Alongside the financial compensation, the council says it will 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 a suitable education and that the council is meeting its duties towards them.

Cornwall Council also received criticism from the Ombudsman this month when an investigation by the watchdog found the council had stopped payments for a disabled woman's care without organising any alternative service.

Cornwall Council has been contacted for a statement.

Adam Carey