Dorset County Council leaves boy with special needs without proper education

A boy with autism was left without proper education for two years by the former Dorset County Council after it failed to provide him with appropriate alternatives when it became clear mainstream school was not suitable for him.

The boy, who also has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), started secondary school in the county in 2015. After two years of struggling with mainstream school, the council decided to try to find him an alternative placement. Throughout the period the boy’s Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan was not amended.

The boy’s parents complained about the amount of educational support their son was receiving, and it was arranged for him to attend a community farm. However, it was discovered nine months later the farm was not Ofsted registered, putting him at risk of harm due to a lack of proper procedures in place.

Two months after removing the boy from the farm, he was sent to a private setting for children with special needs and autism, but this did not have the level of registration needed to deliver full-time education. Around two months later, the boy’s parents removed him from the setting because of concerns about the education it was delivering and the behaviour of other students.

Then the council put in place just four hours tuition a week, which only lasted a month. In April 2019, after the farm had received its registration, the boy returned for 15 hours a week and was given an additional three hours a week home tuition.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council failed to consider whether the boy needed an EHC needs assessment and did not follow the annual review process correctly. It was also at fault for failing to arrange suitable alternative educational provision and for the way it handled the father’s complaint.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“From the start of secondary education in September 2015, the council should have kept the boy’s Education, Health and Care Plan under review. But despite multiple triggers, it did not even consider conducting a reassessment – leaving him with the same EHC Plan since primary school. 

“Consequently, the boy has been out of full-time education for two years, affecting his ability to take his GCSE exams and his future prospects. His father has told us his son has spent a considerable time isolated at home, setting back his education, increasing his anxiety and adversely affecting his confidence and independence.

“Unfortunately, this is not the first complaint we have upheld about the council’s provision for children with special educational needs: we have found fault on eight separate occasions since March 2018. I am concerned the council is not learning from these cases, and it suggests there are wider systemic issues that need to be addressed.

“I am pleased the new council has agreed to my recommendations, and commend the steps it is now making to address the problems I have found in this and earlier cases.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council will apologise and allocate £4,000 to be used for the boy’s educational benefit over and above that used to provide day-to-day support, and consult him and his parents on how this money should be spent.

It will also pay the boy £1,000 for the distress its actions caused and pay his parents a further £300 each to remedy the injustice they were caused.

It will also hold a meeting to discuss the boy’s education with all relevant parties on how best to progress.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve services for the wider public. In this case the council will create and issue staff guidance about EHC needs assessments and develop procedures to help staff when they need to identify and secure alternative provision.

It will also revise its local offer to include details of its alternative provision.

Article date: 04 September 2019

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