Peterborough and Cambridgeshire Councils criticised over boy’s lost education

A boy with special educational needs lost a year’s full-time education as a result of faults by Peterborough City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council.

A boy with special educational needs lost a year’s full-time education as a result of faults by Peterborough City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council, finds Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin. She issues her report today in the public interest to highlight what can happen when councils fail to work together and its serious consequences. In this instance she says the boy “missed out on a crucial year of education” as a result of the two councils’ failures, and he may also have missed the opportunity of a residential placement with 24-hour support.

The complainant’s grandson, ‘Harry’, lived with his mother in Cambridgeshire and had a statement of SEN. He was expected to continue at special school post-16, but changes in his behaviour prompted a review of the arrangements. An assessment commissioned by the children’s services team recommended a residential school placement, but the education team refused to fund this on the grounds that Harry had no educational need for a residential placement. Harry’s mother was becoming unable to cope with his behaviour so Cambridgeshire County Council offered a foster placement with continued attendance at Harry’s previous school. Harry refused to return to this school and moved to live with his grandparents in Peterborough.

Cambridgeshire County Council made a social services referral to Peterborough City Council in November 2008. Peterborough completed its initial assessment in January 2009, but did not begin a core assessment of Harry’s social care needs until seven months later, in August 2009. In the meantime, the two councils disputed which had responsibility for maintaining his statement of SEN. Because of this, Harry was out of school for a further term, until September 2009, when he started a college placement.

The Ombudsman found that Cambridgeshire County Council:

  • did not carry out an annual or emergency review of Harry’s SEN statement in 2008
  • based its decision not to fund a specialist residential placement on insufficient information, and
  • did not act promptly and decisively to transfer responsibility for maintaining Harry’s SEN statement to Peterborough City Council.

The Ombudsman found that Peterborough City Council:

  • delayed in assessing Harry’s social care needs
  • did not consider the safeguarding issues of his move to its area, and
  • failed to take a child-centred approach to the transfer of Harry’s SEN statement.

As a result, Harry’s SEN statement has lapsed, and he missed a year of full-time education and nine months of support. His grandmother, who looked after him, suffered unnecessary stress and frustration, her daughter lost the opportunity to formally put her case for appropriate education and social care for Harry at a critical time, and both are now left with uncertainty about whether, had either council acted differently, Harry would have had the benefit of a residential placement with 24-hour support.

The Ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice by both councils, and they have agreed to her recommendations that: 

  • Cambridgeshire County Council should pay compensation of £2,750
  • Peterborough City Council should pay compensation of £1,750 and provide appropriate therapy for Harry
  • both councils should apologise to the complainant, Harry and his mother, and
  • both councils should review their current arrangements for the transfer of statemented children who are moving to post-16 education.

Report ref nos 09 018 565 & 09 018 567

Article date: 14 October 2011