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Devon teen missed out on education because of council delays

A Devon teenager with special educational needs has missed out on nearly a year’s education because the county council did not plan for her to move schools when she finished Year 11, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

Official guidance says councils must put plans in place before the end of March, when young people with Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plans are transferring from secondary school to a post-16 placement.

In this teenager’s case, who was due to move in September 2019, plans were not finalised until late February of 2020, by which time she had missed so much of the educational year she felt unable to attend.

Because the girl had missed so much schooling, the council also asked her mother to repay tax credits that she had been receiving, which caused the family unnecessary hardship.

The Ombudsman investigated the mother’s complaint. Its investigation found the council failed to identify a placement by the end of March 2019 and failed to plan and take responsibility for ensuring a placement was sourced that met the teenager’s needs.

Because the council failed to produce a final EHC Plan, the mother lost the opportunity to challenge its contents at the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Tribunal. The Ombudsman’s investigation has also found fault with the way the council failed to sort out provision for the teenager in the Autumn term of 2019.

Additionally the Ombudsman has also criticised the council’s communication and record keeping.

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

“In this case, a vulnerable teenager has missed out on education and support at a critical time in her life. By the time she was offered a placement she felt unable to catch up. This can only have caused the family distress, and indeed the girl’s mum has told me her daughter self-harmed during this period of uncertainty.

“I am pleased the council has accepted my recommendations to put things right for the family. I hope the audit it has agreed to take of other similar cases will ensure it learns from what has gone wrong and will put in place measures so this situation is not repeated.”

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 apologise and pay the mother and daughter £4,000 to acknowledge the impact of having no education and the avoidable distress and lost opportunities during this period. In addition it will also pay the mother the equivalent tax credits she lost.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to review its procedures for post-16 education arrangements for young people with EHC Plans, improve its record keeping and undertake an audit of its handling of all post-16 transition arrangements for young people with EHC Plans for the last two years.

Article date: 03 March 2022