Leicestershire County Council has agreed to apologise and pay a teenager £7,200 after an investigation from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) found it left her without an academy school place for nearly 14 months.
According to the Ombudsman, the case highlights problems many councils now face as a result of the widespread academisation of schools.
The teenager, whose family moved from the Leicester area over the county border when she was in Year 10, was out of school and without education provision from early January 2019 to the end of February 2020, because there were no places at nearby academy schools.
Although the county council has no direct authority over academies' admissions, the LGSCO has criticised it for not doing enough to use the powers it does have, through the government's Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), to compel the academies to take action.
The Ombudsman's report found the council allowed the girl's case to "drift", leaving her without proper education at a critical time during her education when she was due to take her GCSE exams. It also did not do enough to ensure alternative arrangements were put in place while a school place was being found.
The teenager was finally offered a place at the beginning of June 2020.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: "This case highlights the problems many parents and councils now face following the widespread academisation of schools. Academies have their own admissions arrangements, and councils have limited powers to ensure the admissions of pupils in those schools.
"It is therefore essential – given the limited powers they do have – that councils use those powers to ensure pupils are not without education for any longer than absolutely necessary.
"I welcome the proactive steps Leicestershire County Council has taken during my investigation to improve its services. I hope the additional improvements it has agreed will help ensure it is better prepared to react when other children find themselves in a similar situation."
Cllr Deborah Taylor, Leicestershire County Council's lead member for children and families, said the council had taken the complaint seriously and apologised for "the unacceptable delays which led to this pupil being without a school place for so long".
Cllr Taylor said: "We have agreed to pay a sum of money to be used for her educational benefit, along with some compensation to her mother for any distress and confusion caused."
The sum paid to the teenager is £7,200 and the compensation paid to the mother amounts to £300.
Cllr. Taylor added: "We are reviewing our procedures and will be providing refresher training to our officers around school admissions and fair access protocol, including ensuring they understand the importance of escalating applications without delay where a pupil is not receiving any education.
"We will also be reminding all schools and academies in the county of their duties around the registration of new pupils.
"The information that we provided to the Ombudsman showed that we did progress all similar applications we received that year within the accepted timeframe."
According to the Ombudsman, the council also realised – during an audit it carried out on itself amidst the LGSCO's investigation – that it needed to collect better information from academies about the children on their rolls. It eventually took steps to improve this.
The audit found no other child's case had been left longer than 15 days.