The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman is reminding councils of their duty to monitor and ensure education provided to children educated out of school is suitable, following an investigation into a complaint against Essex County Council.
The law says if a child of compulsory school age cannot attend school for reasons of illness, exclusion or otherwise, the council must arrange to provide suitable education. But in this case, Essex County Council failed to provide suitable education to a boy with special educational needs (SEN) for two terms after he stopped attending his special school.
The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council also delayed transferring the boy from his Statement of Special Educational Needs (Statement) to an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHC) for 10 months.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:
“Councils have a duty to ensure appropriate support and education is in place for children who, for whatever reason, are unable to attend school. In this case, although the council put some measures in place, it was simply not enough.
“As a result of our investigation, Essex County Council will now be making changes to improve services for all children out of school and for those with Special Educational Needs.”
The boy, who has severe learning difficulties, stopped attending school in 2014. The council provided a care worker to educate the boy at home from the following January but his mum complained it was not good enough.
At the end of April, the council asked an independent head teacher to review the boy’s education. They found the education provided at home was not good enough but it could be if the care worker received more training and support from school. They said the boy also needed a thorough assessment of his SEN.
Nothing changed and the mother continued to complain about the standard of his education. At the end of the summer term the council decided the education was not effective and the care provider was not a viable long-term option. From September, the council put in place improvements to the education he received at home by providing a member of teaching staff from the school.
The council issued the boy’s final EHC Plan at the beginning of February 2016, naming the school as the boy’s placement. The mother remained unhappy. He returned to school part-time in September 2016.
The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council at fault for failing to ensure the boy had suitable education for nearly seven months, during the time it arranged for the care provider to deliver his education. The boy missed two terms of education and the full SEN support as required by his Statement.
The council also failed to carry out an early review of the boy’s Statement once it became clear his situation had changed, and did not review or begin his assessment until 17 months after the last review. The council did not issue the boy’s EHC Plan until three months after the statutory deadline. Had the council not delayed, it is likely the additional provision in the boy’s EHC Plan would have been in place by November 2015 at the latest.
The boy has been identified as needing significantly more support than was in his original Statement. Because of the council’s faults there was a 10-month delay in the boy receiving the additional provision as set out in his EHC Plan.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to improve local public, and adult social care, services.
To remedy the injustice caused to the boy and his mother by the council’s failure to deliver a suitable alternative education, the council has agreed to apologise and pay the mother £2,400 to be used for the boy’s educational benefit. It will also pay the mother £500 to recognise the extra strain she was placed under and to recognise her time and trouble in consistently complaining to the council.
To remedy the injustice caused to the boy by delays in the EHC Plan process, the council has agreed to pay the mother a further £900, also to be used for her son’s educational benefit.
The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve a council’s processes for the wider public. In this case the council will now also review its procedures to ensure it monitors the suitable alternative education put in place for those out of school.
It will also improve its procedures to ensure it acts on changes in the circumstances of children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) and holds emergency reviews where necessary. It will also take action to ensure it completes the EHC Plan transfer process within the required 18 weeks.
Article date: 06 December 2017