30th June 2022

Help at Hand: Helping Children Get Back into Education

The Children’s Commissioner’s Help at Hand service offers advice and assistance to children in care, children working with social services, children living away from home, and care leavers.

As part of the Commissioner’s Attendance Audit, the office has conducted research into what more can be done to support children who are struggling to attend school. In addition to this focus on what can be done nationally, we also support individual children who are out of school.

Many of the children who Help at Hand assist are not attending school.  There are a variety reasons why this may be the case but the most common examples we see at Help at Hand is when a child in care, who has an Education Health Care plan,  is placed out of the area of their parent local authority and they have no school place. We think the following may contribute to these children’s predicament:

  1. The powers and responsibility for making sure these children are in school are blurred between the parent local authority and the SEN team in the child’s resident authority.
  2. Local Authorities do not have the same powers to make directions for a special school as they do for a mainstream school.
  3. There is a nationwide shortage of provision for children with Education Health Care Plans in both mainstream and special education settings.
  4. Many of these children do not have up to date EHCP’s. Some Local Authorities struggle to update the EHCP while the child is out of school – leaving to a chicken and egg scenario.

Below are some recent Help at Hand cases:

Gary* is 14 and a looked after child with an EHCP.  Gary was  moved out of his Local Authority’s area  following a traumatic foster home breakdown. He had been doing very well in a special school up to this point but had no school to go to when he was moved. Gary’s Virtual School Head contacted Help at Hand when he had been out of school for 5 months. The delay in finding him in a school appears to have been largely due to poor communication and substantial drift and delay from the new resident Local Authority  and poor information sharing between both SEND teams. The Children’s Commissioner herself wrote on behalf of Gary to both Local Authorities and a school place and funding for tutoring for Gary was finally agreed.

Matthew* was 7 when his virtual school head contacted us with concerns that since moving to a foster home out of area he had no school place (at this point he had been out of school for several months). Matthew has significant behavioural issues but had made great progress and his EHCP did not reflect his current needs. The Help at Hand Child Rights Advisor made representations to both Local Authorities and subsequently  communication between the two improved. Matthew has now started school.

* Identifying details have been changed to protect anonymity of children.

If you are a child in care,  a child working with social services or their advocate, and you are not in school please contact Help at Hand on 08005280731 (freephone) or [email protected] .