Ombudsman criticises county over complaints policy in special educational needs investigation

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO) has criticised the way Worcestershire County Council dealt with a mother’s complaint about the lack of alternative education provided for her son, when mainstream school was no longer suitable for him.

The council’s failings meant that, amongst other things, the mother was denied the right to challenge the council through the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Tribunal.

The LGO said the boy, who has Special Educational Needs (SEN), missed out on 14 months of appropriate education when he could no longer attend his primary school.

When the mother raised the issue with the council, it took too long to deal with her complaint at the first stage of the complaints process, the Ombudsman added.

The LGO’s investigation found Worcestershire’s complaints policy faulty because it did not have any timescales for the different stages, “and so created a clear potential for delay”.

The boy needed two-to-one support, but by December 2017 he could no longer cope in his primary school.

“Instead of permanently excluding the boy, the school, with the agreement of the council, kept him on roll, even though he would not be allowed to return,” the LGO said.

The council was not able to offer the boy any suitable alternative educational provision until February 2019, and instead he received just one hour a week of intervention and play therapy.

There was no evidence the council had assessed he could only cope with such limited provision, the LGO said.

Throughout this time the boy’s mother complained. The council twice confirmed there was no appropriate alternative education locally.

The investigation found that the council failed to issue a new Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan for the boy or write to his mother refusing to do so. “This meant the mother was denied the right to challenge the council through the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Tribunal,” the LGO said.

Following the LGO's investigation Worcestershire has agreed to:

  • apologise to the mother for failing to provide education or deliver the SEN provision in her son’s EHC plan, and failing to update the plan;
  • pay the mother £4,200 to use for her son’s benefit;
  • issue an up-to-date EHC plan for the boy;
  • remind all relevant staff that informal school exclusions are illegal;
  • where a child with an EHC plan is out of education, carry out an emergency review of the EHC plan and write to the parent advising them of their right to appeal to the SEND Tribunal; and
  • review its corporate complaints procedure to ensure it normally takes no longer than 12 weeks to complete and there is a timescale for each stage.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “Councils faced with children who are out of education need to make alternative offers promptly, and not allow a situation to become normalised where a child has no education.

“It’s also a principle of good complaints handling that processes have clear timescales so people can progress through them in good time.

“I welcome Worcestershire County Council’s prompt acceptance of all our recommendations.”

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