Council oversight left boy with SEND out of education for months, ombudsman finds

Norfolk County Council has agreed to rigorous scrutiny of its processes surrounding children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND) after a boy was left for months without proper education for a second time, the local government and social care ombudsman has found.

Local government and social care ombudsman Micheal King. Picture: LGSCO
Local government and social care ombudsman Micheal King. Picture: LGSCO

The ombudsman has ordered the council to repay the boy’s mother more than £1,600 to cover the cost of a private tutor she hired to help her son after his school placement broke down in February 2019.

Ombudsman Michael King found that the council had failed to provide the boy with a suitable school placement in his most recent report on the issue.

It follows a previous report, made by King in 2018, which found the council had failed to place the boy, leaving him out of education for seven months.

Following this first gap in education, the boy was placed in a school in September 2018, however, by December a report by the council’s child psychologist found that he was “considered to be a high risk of further exclusions”. 

Despite the findings of the report, the ombudsman ruled that the council had taken no steps to prevent a breakdown of the child’s placement.

It was not until the end of March - after the boy’s mother had taken him out of school and paid for private tuition - that the council took action to find a new placement, King added.

In response to the report, 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 due to the “distress she was put to”, King said.

The council will also 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 and 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.

King ordered that 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.

King 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 ombudsman clarified that the report had been issued to the council before the Covid-19 pandemic, stating that “the council has started to implement some of its recommendations to put things right”.

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