Dorset County Council (18 001 971)

Category : Education > Special educational needs

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 27 Sep 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The complainants say that the Council delayed in completing their daughter’s Education, Health and Care Plan which meant that she did not receive sufficient support at her Nursery. The Council accepted it had delayed and it suggested a financial remedy to make up for the loss of earlier educational support. The Ombudsman is satisfied that this is an appropriate way to resolve the complaint.

The complaint

  1. The complainants, who I shall refer to as Mr and Mrs X, complain that the Council, between May 2017 and April 2018, delayed in completing their daughter’s (Child B’s) Education, Health and Care Plan (EHC Plan) and this resulted in less support at pre-school and affected Child B’s transition to school.
  2. The Council has considered Mr and Mrs X’s complaint and accepted there was delay in completing Child B’s Plan and it apologised. However, the complainants did not consider the Council had remedied the adverse impact on Child B by its delays. It is for this reason that they complained to the Ombudsman.

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The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I obtained information from the Council and from Mr and Mrs X. The Council, on receiving the Ombudsman’s enquiry letter, suggested a way to settle the injustice caused to Child B by its delay.
  2. I issued a draft decision statement. I have taken into account the complainant and the Council’s further comments when reaching my final decision.
  3. Under the information sharing agreement between the Local Government Ombudsman and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), we will share the final decision statement with Ofsted.

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What I found

  1. In September 2014, the Children and Families Act 2014 (the Act) changed the way councils should assess and provide for a child’s special educational needs. Accompanying the Act, is the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice 2015 (the Code) and the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Regulations 2014 ‘Regulations. These contain detailed guidance to councils about how they should manage the process.
  2. The Act says that a council is responsible for a child or young person if he or she is in the council’s area and has been identified by the council as someone who has or may have special educational needs (SEN) or brought to the council’s attention by any person as someone who has or may have special educational needs.
  3. Section 36(8) provides that an Education Health and Care (EHC) needs assessment must be carried out if the council considers that a child has or may have special educational needs and it may be necessary for provision to be made available to the child or young person.
  4. The Code says that, following a request for an EHC needs assessment, a council must determine whether a needs assessment is necessary and it must make a decision within 6 weeks. The Regulations require councils, subject to certain exemptions, to send the final EHC Plan within 20 weeks of deciding to conduct an assessment.

Key events

  1. Child B has complex language and communication needs, including a significant expressive language disorder.
  2. The Council received a request for a statutory assessment on 10 July 2017. The Council agreed to proceed to a statutory assessment within the required timescale of 6 weeks.
  3. The Council should have finalised Child B’s EHC Plan by 27 November 2017. It was not completed until April 2018. The Council accepted that it had delayed by 19 weeks over the statutory timescale of 20 weeks. The Council also accepted that Mr and Mrs X had had a series of SEN case officers over the period and this had added to the difficulties.
  4. The Council recognised that it should make procedural changes to its tracking procedures to prevent delays occurring in the future. It has now done so and the SEN Team report, on a monthly basis, to a SEN Board about timescales and progress on Plans. The Council is satisfied that improvements have now been made across all decision timelines.
  5. Regarding the injustice to Child B, the Council considers that the best way to make up for the lost additional support is to provide an additional payment to Child B at her current School, which she started in September 2018. The Council has considered this should amount to one academic term of lost support and amounts to £1,666.00. Mr and Mrs X consider that this is a reasonable way to settle their complaint.

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Agreed action

  1. There has been a delay in completing Child B’s EHC Plan. The Council had recognised this and apologised to the complainants. It has now suggested a suitable remedy for the injustice caused to Child B by its delay and it has made significant improvements to its management of EHC Plans. I am therefore satisfied that the Council has remedied Child B’s injustice and it has improved its SEN administrative process.

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Final decision

  1. I have therefore completed my investigation and am closing the complaint.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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