Why Aren't Children In Care Getting School Places?


The Law Of… Failing Vulnerable Children

Disturbing new data has shown that vulnerable children taken into care are being left without school places.

Why is this happening and what does this mean for these children? Samantha Hale, Associate in Education Law and Community Care, takes a closer look at the situation.

Missing Out On Their Education 

A child who is 'looked after' is either being cared for by a Local Authority or accommodated by them. According to the School Admissions code 2014, "the highest priority must be given" to looked after children when it comes to issuing school places.

This includes children who were previously looked after by local authorities and have been adopted or are now under a child arrangement or special guardianship order.

But it appears that these children have not been a priority, especially in Oxfordshire, where politicians and officials have found that over 30 looked after children haven't been allocated a school place. Some of these children have even missed months of their education.

A "Completely Unacceptable State Of Affairs"

According to Hilary Hibbert-Biles, Oxfordshire County Council's cabinet member for education:

"Over the past three years it has been exceptional for a looked after child to be taken onto the roll of an out-of-county school in under two weeks."

Looking at data on how long it took for looked after children to be given a school place in Oxfordshire, Hilary found that:

  • In cases involving primary school children, it took at least 12 days for a student to be placed in a school. The longest it took was 77 days.
  • In cases involving secondary school children, it took at least 3 weeks for a child to be given a place and the longest it took was a staggering 6 months.

Considering that these children should be prioritised when it comes to school spaces, why is it taking so long for schools to accept them?

One of the biggest reasons behind this "completely unacceptable state of affairs" is that academy schools are refusing to admit them. As these schools are independent from local authorities, the authorities are unable to order them to accept a child.

Challenging The School's Decision

When an academy school has refused to admit a looked after child, the Local Authority challenges the refusal through the Education Funding Agency to try and resolve the matter. This process takes time and this can have a negative impact on children who are left out of education until a place is found for them.

If a school has a place available "in the right year then there's no reason why they shouldn't take that child", said Debbie Barnes – chairman of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.

She also points out that when schools are asked whether they can place a child, "some schools will say 'I can't meet the child's need' and so we would do an assessment of that to check if there is a justification."

"If we find there is no justification then we can direct them to take a child, but if it's an academy we don't have powers of direction."

Sadly, a lack of suitable funding to meet the needs of students and "the pressure of school places" is also likely to be playing a role in whether schools accept looked after children.

Changing The Rules On Protecting Looked After Children

With academy schools failing to support looked after children properly, Lucy Butler – director of children's services for Oxfordshire – believes that changes to the rules around protecting them need to change.

She's suggested that looked after children should have the same level of protection as children with special educational needs (SEN) who have Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs).

This could mean that schools and local authorities have a greater responsibility over meeting the needs of looked after children.

Samantha shares her view of the situation:

"It's unacceptable that any child, in particular a vulnerable child, should be left without schooling. In cases where this is due to academy schools refusing to admit children, they still should not be left without a provision of education."

"All Local Authorities have a legal duty to provide suitable full-time education for a child of compulsory school age when they are unable to receive this due to ‘exclusion, illness or otherwise’. In cases where a looked after child is without education because a school place has not been found for them, this legal duty would kick in as they are ‘otherwise’ unable to receive education."

"Therefore, the Local Authority should be providing them with a full-time provision of education, which could be home education until a school place is found for them."

"If a Local Authority fails to comply with this duty, it can be challenged legally."

"If your child is without a provision of suitable education, whether it is due to exclusion, illness or another reason, our education team would like to hear from you. Contact us on our number below or fill out an online enquiry form."

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