The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Miss B says the Council failed to investigate her safeguarding concerns, failed to provide her daughter with education for a three month period and unreasonably refused to put her complaint through the complaints procedure. The Council failed to consider the safeguarding concerns Miss B had raised once she completed the school’s complaints procedure and failed to consider providing alternative education while it considered those concerns. This potentially left Miss B’s daughter without education for 6-8 weeks longer than she should have and led to Miss B having to take time to pursue her complaint. An apology, payment to reflect the lost education and a time and trouble payment are satisfactory remedy for the injustice caused.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Miss B, complained the Council:
- failed to properly investigate her safeguarding referral;
- failed to provide her daughter with any education when it knew she was out of school for four months; and
- unreasonably refused to consider her complaint.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- If we are satisfied with a Council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- As part of the investigation, I have:
- considered the complaint and Miss B's comments;
- made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
- considered the Children Act 1989; and
- considered Greater Manchester Safeguarding Children Procedures Manual, which I understand Stockport Safeguarding Children’s Board has adopted;
- considered Miss B’s comments on my draft decision; and
- gave the Council an opportunity to comment on my draft decision.
What I found
- Miss B contacted the Council in July 2016 to raise concerns about how her daughter’s school was managing her diabetes. The Council contacted the school for its response on 15 July.
- Miss B put in a complaint on 19 July, referring to the complaint she had submitted to the school.
- On 19 July the school provided the Council with an explanation about what had happened on 27 June 2016. The Council suggested a team around the school meeting to coordinate a wider support plan. The school agreed to that.
- Miss B contacted the Council again on 20 July. Miss B said she had concerns about safeguarding and the school’s actions. The Council told Miss B to complain to the chair of governors at the school. Miss B did that on 21 July and provided a copy to the Council on 28 July. At that point Miss B asked the Council to clarify whether it considered her concerns a safeguarding issue. The Council responded on 29 July to say it would wait for the response from the school and then review. That response was delayed due to the summer holidays.
- Miss B applied for a new school for her daughter on 10 September.
- Miss B chased the Council to find out what was happening on 23 September as she had not received a response from the school and had removed her daughter from the school. Miss B raised concerns about her daughter missing six weeks of schooling and told the Council she expected it to make arrangements for her daughter to access education. The Council told Miss B the school had said it was finalising its response to the complaint. The Council told Miss B it would chase what was happening with her application for a new school.
- On 27 September the Council told Miss B it had spoken to the alternative school which had said it was full in her daughter’s year group. The Council wrote to Miss B to formally confirm that on 28 September, providing her with a right of appeal. Miss B appealed that decision.
- On 27 September Miss B told the Council she had received the school’s response and did not consider it had addressed her complaint. The Council contacted the school and told Miss B the school would provide a further response to deal with her concerns. Miss B responded to raise concerns about the Council not considering whether her complaint raised safeguarding concerns. Miss B provided the Council with a diary of events of what had happened on 27 and 28 June.
- On 2 November the Council offered Miss B’s daughter a place at a new school. I understand Miss B’s daughter began attending the school on 21 November.
- Miss B put in a claim to the tribunal in November 2016.
- On 21 February 2017 Miss B contacted the Council to ask for a response to her complaint from July 2016. Miss B also contacted the Ombudsman. In response to a letter from the Ombudsman the Council wrote to Miss B on 13 March. The Council said it could not put her complaint through its complaints procedure as it concerned matters the tribunal would consider.
- On 27 April the First-Tier Tribunal considered the case. It concluded Miss B’s daughter’s school had discriminated against her. The tribunal ordered the school to issue a letter of apology, organise training for governors and senior staff and to review its policies on disability discrimination and meeting the needs of students with medical conditions.
- Miss B says the Council failed to properly investigate safeguarding issues she raised in July 2016. I am satisfied the Council acted on the information provided by Miss B given it contacted the school promptly to ask for its response. As a result of the information provided by the school the Council considered there was a difference of opinion between Miss B and the school about how the school was managing Miss B’s daughter’s diabetes, rather than a safeguarding issue. The Council therefore told Miss B to complain to the school. Miss B’s daughter was not attending the school and the events complained of related to the actions of the school. I therefore do not criticise the Council for asking the school to respond to the complaint in the first instance. The Council’s view at that point was that it was a difference of opinion on diabetes management and it is not my role to comment on that judgement, given it was not reached with fault. I also do not criticise the Council for asking the school to provide a more detailed response when Miss B made clear she was not happy with the information provided by the school.
- I am, however, concerned about what happened after that. Miss B had provided the Council with a timeline of events on 27 September which related to what had happened on 27 and 28 June. That provided more detail about what had happened. Miss B also alleged the school failed to follow her daughter’s individual health plan. Miss B said she felt that had put her daughter at risk and undermined her confidence in the school to keep her daughter safe. At the same time Miss B told the Council she wanted it to consider whether the concerns she had raised were safeguarding issues. I have seen no evidence the Council considered that point. Nor have I seen any evidence the Council consulted the local authority designated officer (LADO) for their view on the matter. I would have expected the Council to do that given the LADO should be alerted when a concern is raised about someone working with a child potentially causing them harm, as was the case here. Failure to consider the issues further or consult the LADO is fault.
- I recognise the Council had decided earlier in the year that safeguarding was not an issue because it appeared the school and Miss B had different ideas about managing Miss B’s daughter’s diabetes. However, in September Miss B had provided more background information which detailed some of the issues where she felt the school had not acted appropriately and had put her daughter at risk. I have seen no evidence the Council considered those points or wrote to Miss B to explain what view it had taken. I consider it likely, given the detail Miss B had provided about how the school had not followed her daughter’s individual health plan, the Council would have investigated further had it properly considered whether the concerns raised in the diary of events provided by Miss B constituted a safeguarding issue. At the very least I would have expected the Council to ask the school to respond to the allegations made to enable it to determine whether there was a safeguarding issue for it to pursue. Failure to do that is fault. That left Miss B feeling the Council was not taking her concern seriously and led to her having to go to time and trouble to pursue her complaint.
- The evidence I have seen satisfies me Miss B’s daughter received no education between 29 June 2016 and 21 November 2016. I am satisfied this was because Miss B removed her daughter from the allocated school due to her concerns about the school not keeping her daughter safe. Miss B’s daughter remained on the school roll though. The documentary evidence I have seen satisfies me the reason Miss B could not secure a school place for her daughter until 21 November is because the schools she had chosen were full. That was not due to any fault by the Council. I therefore cannot criticise the Council for not identifying another school before 21 November.
- As I said earlier though, at least by 27 September Miss B had provided the Council with a detailed explanation of what had happened on 27 June and 28 June. Miss B had also told the Council she did not consider the school suitable for her daughter. I have already said it was fault for the Council not to further consider those points. It seems to me likely if the Council had done that it would have recognised returning Miss B’s daughter to her original school was not an option at least until the Council had considered the matter further. Given it is my view the Council should have investigated the issues further I would also have expected the Council to have considered alternative education for Miss B’s daughter while the Council considered Miss B’s safeguarding concerns and while it was aware Miss B felt unable to send her daughter back to the school and there was no alternative school place available. So, failure to properly consider the information it received in September 2016 also meant the Council failed to consider putting in place interim provision for Miss B’s daughter either until it was satisfied the school was appropriate for her or until an alternative school was provided. Miss B’s daughter therefore likely missed out on around 6 to 8 weeks education she should not have missed out on.
- I recognise during that period Miss B gave up her job because she needed to stay at home with her daughter while she was out of school. I cannot say though that but for the fault I have identified Miss B could have avoided that. That is because, as I said earlier, a new school place for Miss B’s daughter was not identified until November 2016. At best if the Council had considered matters properly in September 2016 it would have arranged for some alternative provision such as homeschooling or for the school to send some work home. In both of those scenarios Miss B would still have had to be at home with her daughter. I therefore could not say fault by the Council led to Miss B having to give up her employment.
- Miss B says the Council should have considered her complaint through its complaints procedure because the tribunal claim she put in did not relate to the issues raised in her complaint. The evidence I have seen though satisfies me the Council initially referred the complaint to the school for it to respond. Given the complaint related to what happened within the school I do not criticise the Council for that. I am satisfied the Council followed up with the school appropriately in September 2016 to ensure the school intended to provide a response to Miss B. As the complaints related to the actions of the school it was appropriate for the school to carry out the investigation and I therefore do not criticise the Council for how it dealt with Miss B’s complaint, as compared to her safeguarding referral.
- I am aware Miss B was not satisfied with the school’s response and asked the Council to investigate. I have seen no evidence the Council responded to that request until Miss B escalated her complaint to the Ombudsman. At that point the Council declined to investigate because the issues raised were the same as those which were to be considered by tribunal. Miss B says that was not the case. However, having considered the tribunal’s decision I am satisfied the issues it considered related to what had happened at Miss B’s daughter school on 27 and 28 June 2016. That was the same issue Miss B had raised with the Council. I therefore do not criticise the Council for declining to investigate at that stage. It would not have been appropriate for the Council to comment on events which the tribunal would also be, or would potentially be, commenting on.
- So, I have found fault in how the Council considered the information Miss B provided in September 2018 which led to a failure to consider alternative education provision until a new school place could be provided. As I consider it unlikely Miss B’s daughter would have received full-time education between September and November 2016 due to the lack of available school places Miss B’s injustice is limited to the failure to provide or consider providing limited education at home. Added to that, Miss B had to go to time and trouble to pursue her complaint. The Council has agreed to apologise to Miss B for the faults identified in this statement, pay £600 to reflect the lost education and £250 to Miss B for the time and trouble she had to go to pursuing her complaint.
- Within one month of my decision the Council should:
- apologise to Miss B for the faults identified in this statement;
- pay £600 to reflect the lost education;
- pay Miss B £250 to reflect the time and trouble she had to go to pursuing her complaint; and
- remind officers considering referrals of the need to consider consulting the LADO for advice before deciding how to proceed when the person referring alleges a person working with a child has caused them harm.
- I have completed my investigation and uphold the complaint. I am satisfied the action the Council will take is sufficient to remedy Miss B’s injustice.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman