30th November 2022

How Help at Hand helps children get back into education

My recent reports on attendance and SEND have highlighted that despite the requirement that all children in care have a clear plan, including education, of how a local authority will best look after them and outlining the individuals with responsibility for the welfare of the young person, this does not happen every time. When it happens, they vary in quality. I want all children to have a fantastic experience of the system, wherever they live.  

My advice and advocacy service (Help at Hand) can intervene to support children in care or children in need with an education health care plan (EHCP) getting back into school or getting the appropriate education to meet their needs. I highlighted in my Help at Hand report that one group of children I am particularly concerned about, are those in care and not in education because of how they end up being moved, due to no fault of their own. To get to the bottom of the issue, my office is also collecting data on looked after children to understand where these children were being educated in 2022. This data will also show for the first time how many children in care are in mainstream or special needs school, out of education entirely or being electively home educated at home or in an independent school.  

The issues the Help at Hand team see are mainly around how a child with significant needs ends up too often losing their home. This can be due to their behaviour or past trauma escalating, with not enough planning and communication between local areas to ensure that education remains consistent. Often, where a child has to move, no school is identified that meets their needs, and sometimes that change is not reflected in their EHCP. These children may then, for some time, be receiving only part time tuition, either in their foster or care home, but not having a classroom or school friends to socialise and enjoy their education with. Often the obstacles come down to a lack of clarity and communication between services of different areas, over funding and responsibility, which leads to children’s needs and their views not being kept central to decision making and service provision.   

The examples below illustrate some of these difficulties and how the team can help. 

Adam is a 12-year-old child in need who is living with his mum, and who has experienced trauma in the past and with behavioural problems. This behaviour led to him being permanently excluded from school. The local authority’s Education Team arranged online tutoring for him for 2 hours, twice a week, but he didn’t enjoy this as he found it difficult to concentrate and therefore stopped engaging. He really wanted to go back to school but, despite having a social worker and Education Welfare Officer involved, this didn’t happen for 10 months. Adam and his mum felt like nobody was listening. She contacted Help at Hand and Adam spoke to us. He said he wanted the chance to go back to a normal school and to have friends and a routine. We wrote to the local authority’s team, but it took time to get a result, so we escalated this, and the Commissioner wrote to the director of children’s services. After this, the Education Team found him a place at an Alternative Provision, which was welcomed by Adam and his mum and will hopefully be a step back into education for him.  

Caleb is a 9-year-old child who is in care and has experienced significant childhood neglect and trauma. He is autistic and has an EHC Plan. After being excluded from his primary school because they couldn’t manage his behaviour, he was then placed in various alternative provisions, which didn’t meet his needs, and did not provide any formal education. His foster carer, concerned about Caleb missing out on his social interaction with other children, and on good education, contacted Help at Hand for support. The team then contacted the local authority to raise concerns about the education plan for Caleb, who had been out of formal school for almost a year. This was having a negative impact on his behaviour, which was putting his foster placement at risk, despite his carers’ commitment to him. It appeared that the SEND team had been slow to consult special schools, and hadn’t found anywhere local that could meet his needs. We urged the professional team to prioritise this for Caleb, and they ultimately found a place at a specialist school for children with emotional difficulties, where he was also offered boarding opportunities during the week, returning to his carers for the weekend.  

In another example, Ashley is a 12 year old child in care, who has autism, with an EHC Plan, who was moved far away from her home as the responsible local authority was not able to find an appropriate placement in her area. She was removed from home under an interim care order. Education was provided by the new residential home, but this did not meet Ashley’s needs, nor she enjoyed going to that school. No tutor was provided alternatively, and Ashley was expected to do home learning without support or a tutor. Ashley’s advocate had tried for some times to get both education teams talking to each others, without any success. Help at Hand made representations at a meeting with Ashley, her social care team, her local SEND team and her advocate during the summer break with an agreement to have a clear plan for Ashley’s education for the coming academic year. One week before the start of the academic year, Ashley and her advocate were informed that a school, that Ashley had asked to attend, had offered Ashley a place and she could finally return to the classroom.  

Parents, children and their advocates can contact Help at Hand by calling 0800 528 0731, emailing [email protected], or using our online form: Get in touch | Children’s Commissioner for England (childrenscommissioner.gov.uk)