Norfolk council agrees to rigorous scrutiny of services for children with Special Educational Needs

Councillors in Norfolk will be provided with regular detailed analysis of the county council’s special educational needs services following a critical Ombudsman report.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman was asked to investigate, for a second time, the support Norfolk County Council provided to a boy.

The Ombudsman had previously issued a report in October 2018, after it found the council had not ensured the boy had a suitable education for eight months.

In the most recent case, the mother said the council again failed to provide her son with a suitable education after his school placement broke down, meaning he was without proper education for nearly four months. During that time, the mother had to pay for a personal tutor.

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

“I am concerned Norfolk council has again failed this boy and not provided him with an education appropriate for his needs, despite being made aware the school he was attending was no longer suitable.

“When we published our last report about the family’s situation, the council made steps to improve its services, but it is clear more could be done to learn from its mistakes.

“I hope that by increasing the level of scrutiny from councillors, a way can be found to ensure other children and their families do not fall through the cracks as has happened in this case.”

The investigation report was issued to both the council and the family before the Covid-19 lockdown and the Ombudsman understands the council has started to implement some of its recommendations to put things right.

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 has agreed to reimburse the mother for the cost of paying for her son’s education for nearly four months.

It will also pay her £1,400 for the seven months the son was without a suitable education and a further £250 for the distress and time and trouble she was put to.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council will review its decision-making process to make sure it is able to respond quickly and flexibly to the changing needs of children with special education needs and disabilities.

It will also review how it communicates internally to ensure information is shared between teams and departments about children who may be out of education, and where education is being provided but is not suitable, or is at risk of breaking down.

The council should also provide its People and Select Committee with regular updates on its performance for two financial years. This should include:

  • the number of children out of education;
  •  the average time for arranging alternative educational provision for children who are out of education;
  • the average time taken to produce final Education Health and Care (EHC) plans and plan reviews compared with statutory timescales and;
  • the number of upheld complaints about EHC plans and education provision from both the council and Ombudsman’s complaints processes.

Article date: 02 July 2020

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