The naming of a young person in Serious Case Review Report is rare. But this week the Report into the death of Jacob in Oxfordshire contained his name. The family gave permission, and hope it will ensure the report is more widely read and acted upon. If so, it is a brave decision, and one that I applaud.
You can read the Report at https://www.oscb.org.uk/oscb-publishes-a-child-safeguarding-practice-review-concerning-jacob/ Full report link at bottom of the press notice
Three agencies, the Police, Children’s Social Services and Education have learning points to take from the Review. In this blog, I will concentrate on the education aspects, as they contain a message heard before on this blog.
Jacob was born in Oxfordshire, later moved to Northumbria, where I suspect he was educated in a First School, and then a Middle School, before being moved in Year 6 to an ‘alternative education provision’ – presumably a PRU?
In July 2017, note the date, the family returned to Oxfordshire. The Report concludes that:
5.1 He was not on roll at any education provision and was a child missing education for 22 months
Jacob’s mandatory need for education was not provided by Oxfordshire County Council when he lived at home and when he was in the care of the local authority both in and when out of county for 5 months. Four educational settings were asked to take Jacob on roll, however largely due to his perceived behaviours and risks to other students he remained off roll for almost 2 years. Jacob’s family were offered the right of appeal when places were refused. His situation was considered by education panels such as the In Year Fair Access Panel and Children Missing Education to little effect and his needs were overseen and monitored by various professionals, including the Virtual School and the Independent Reviewing Officer Service whilst in local authority care. There were no formal dispute resolutions raised14 by Children’s Social Care and his situation was not escalated to the Education Skills and Funding Agency (ESFA) as it should have been.
Had this been an isolated case then this would be understandable, but a month before Jacob arrived back in Oxfordshire I had had an exchange in public with the Cabinet Member for Education at the June 2017 Cabinet meeting of the County Council. Not all questions are for political gain, and this was one where I genuinely thought that there was an issue to be addressed. The question asked:
Oxfordshire county council CABINET – 20 JUNE 2017 ITEM 4 – QUESTIONS FROM COUNTY COUNCILLORS
Question from Councillor Howson to Councillors Harrod and Hibbert-Biles “How many children taken into care over the past three school years and placed ‘out county’ have had to wait for more than two weeks to be taken onto the roll of a school in the area where they have been moved to and what is the longest period of time a child has waited for a place at a school in the area where they have been re-located to during this period?”
As you will see, I asked both the Education Cabinet Member and Cllr Harrod for Children’s Social Services and received this answer:
Answer 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. Indeed, of the nine cases of primary age pupils we’ve looked at, the quickest a pupil was placed was 12 days (there were two) and the slowest was 77 days. For the 22 secondary age pupils the picture is even worse, with 3 weeks the quickest placement and a couple taking fully 6 months to get some of our most vulnerable young people into a stable school setting.
The main reason for this completely unacceptable state of affairs is that the Council has no power to direct an academy to admit a Looked After Child. The only way we can force an academy’s hand is to get a direction from the Educations & Skills Funding Agency and this, as you can see from the foregoing times, can be a very long winded bureaucratic process.
The fact that it takes so long for academies to admit our Looked After Children shows how doggedly our officers pursue the matter; I suspect that many other local authorities simply give up when they meet an intransigent academy that doesn’t want to take responsibility for educating their vulnerable young people.
The minutes of the meeting note my supplementary question and the response as:
Supplementary: In response to an invitation from Councillor Howson for the Cabinet Member to work with Councillor Howson and the labour opposition to see what could be done Councillor Hibbert-Biles recognised that it was a national situation, and she would be asking for a meeting with local MPs and relevant minister.
How distressing to read the national recommendation in the Serious Case Review that:
Recommendation 2: This Review asks the Department for Education to acknowledge the education key learning and findings from Jacob’s Review and provide feedback as to the effectiveness of the Education and Skills Funding Agency process in resolving issues in a timely manner. The Review asks the Department of Education to provide statute and guidance to local areas and their communities on how to manage the Governance arrangements with academy run schools and local education departments who currently cannot be mandated to accept children on roll.
And in the local recommendations that:
Action Plan 2: The Education System
The key learning set out below is fully addressed in this action plan for children in the education system in Oxfordshire, overseen by the Chair of the OSCB Safeguarding in Education Sub-Group Key Learning:
An education system that ensures:
1. The paramount importance of the role of schools in keeping children safe
2. An education package is put in place in a timely manner for those children who may show challenging behaviours
3. Those children missing education are known and action is swift
This Action Plan should pay particular attention to ensuring: – Restorative work to resolve the fragmented arrangements between academy schools, alternative provisions and the local authority to ensure collective ownership – Policy and procedures to track when children are not on roll – The function of Education Panels in Oxfordshire (In Year Fair Access and Children Missing Education) – The local application of the Education Skills Funding Agency intervention – Education packages for children who may be at risk of exploitation and also present a risk to others.
For those that read the whole Report, there is further evidence on page 31 and footnote 56 of other issues about school admissions around the same time.
Here’s what I wrote on this blog on the 23rd June 2017:
In my post on 11th June, after the outcome of the general election was known, I suggested some issues that could still be addressed by a government without an overall majority. First among these was the issue of school places for young people taken into care and placed outside of the local authority. They have no guarantee of access to a new school within any given time frame at present. It seemed to me daft that a parent could be fined for taking a child out of school for two weeks to go on holiday but a local authority could wait six months for a school place to be provided for a young person taken into care.
The Cabinet Question reproduced above then appears followed by:
I found the answer deeply depressing. However, the good news is that MPs from the three political parties representing Oxfordshire constituencies have agreed to work together to take the matter forward. Thank you to MPs, Victoria Prentice, Layla Moran and Anneliese Dodds, for agreeing to seek action to remedy this state of affairs.
If readers have data about the issue elsewhere in England, I would be delighted to hear from you, so pressure can be put on officials nationally to ensure a rapid change in the rules.
I had forgotten that unique letter signed by every Oxfordshire MP after I had made my suggestion.
Nothing happened. Jacob died. We cannot wait any longer.
The DfE must act now to ensure all children have a school place within a specified time frame, whether they move to a new area or are excluded by a school. There must be a register of unplaced children of school age that is regularly reviewed by a senior officer and a politician in each local authority, and Ofsted should update the Secretary of State each year about the national picture.
It is time for a Jacob’s Law. His death will not then have been for nothing.
Read more on this BBC Report into the case https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-55841644