Council defends threatening parents with prosecution over daughter’s school attendance

West Sussex County Council SUS-160531-124255001
West Sussex County Council SUS-160531-124255001

West Sussex County Council has refused to apologise to parents it threatened with prosecution for failing to make sure their daughter went to school.

The girl started missing lessons due to ‘high levels of anxiety’ in 2015/16 and, by February 2017, had stopped going completely.

In March 2017, the council told her parents that it would be prosecuting them.

After investigating a complaint from the mother – Mrs X – the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman recommended that the council should not only apologise for the ‘injustice’ but pay the family £400.

The mother’s complaint was that the council had failed to provide support or alternative education for her daughter while she was off school.

A meeting of the standards committee was told that, while the council usually accepted the ombudsman’s recommendations in full, in this case it would not do so.

Not only was the council confident that its team had done its job properly, there were fears that to apologise and pay up would set a precedent.

Bob Smytherman (Lib Dem, Tarring) said: “If we were to agree to this recommendation, it would open the floodgates for a lot of people who don’t want to go to school.”

He added that the ombudsman had ‘not listened to one shred of evidence from our officers’.

The meeting was told that Mrs X felt her daughter should have been treated as if she had an illness – but the family continually failed to provide medical evidence to support that position.

The prosecution was withdrawn in June 2017 after a GP’s letter and psychologist’s report were provided.