A Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigation has found failures by some councils to put in place alternative education for children who need it, "robbing them of their potential to thrive".
For children unable to fully attend a school to access their education due to illness, exclusion or otherwise, councils have a legal duty to assess the situation and decide if they must provide them with alternative education.
However, in nearly 90% of the complaints the Ombudsman investigates, it finds something went wrong in how this should happen.
Many of the cases involve children with complex special educational needs, but the Ombudsman service said it is seeing increasing numbers of children unable to attend school because of social anxiety – or simply because there are no school places available in the area.
The report has found that some children in this situation are struggling with little or no education.
Cases in the report include a child who was provided with just five hours a week online tuition in English and maths for a year, without any consideration of how this might allow him to study all his GSCE subjects.
In another case, a teenager was without a school place for nearly 14 months after moving to an area mid-term, as there were no local spaces for her.
This example, as noted by the report, demonstrates the difficulties faced when all schools in an area are academies - where councils have no power to direct admission, the Ombudsman said.
However, when a child cannot find a school place quickly the council may need to arrange 'suitable alternative education' themselves, it suggested.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “Time and again we see children being robbed of their potential to thrive because councils have not acted properly.
“We know getting an alternative education set up as soon as possible is crucial to ensure children do not fall behind their peers, but we see examples of councils trying to and pass the buck, saying it is the school’s responsibility.
“Parents need to know this isn’t right. Councils have a legal obligation to properly consider what alternative education is provided when a child cannot attend school, and it must be suitable to the child – not a token gesture of the minimum hours. We would encourage parents raise their concerns with their council as soon as they can if this does not happen.”