Norfolk County Council has agreed to review its decision-making process and internal communications in relation to its special educational needs services, and provide its People and Communities select committee with regular updates on its performance, following a critical report from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
The LGO said it had been asked to investigate, for a second time, the support the 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 Norfolk 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.
Norfolk has now agreed to:
- reimburse the mother for the cost of paying for her son’s education for nearly four months.
- pay the mother £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.
- 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”.
- 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”.
- provide its People and Select Committee with regular updates that include information on: 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.
The LGO said its report was issued to both the council and the family before the COVID-19 lockdown and the Ombudsman understood that Norfolk had started to implement some of its recommendations to put things right.
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.”
Cllr John Fisher, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services at Norfolk County Council said: “We want all children in Norfolk to get a good education so we are very sorry that Y has not received this.
“We accept all of the Ombudsman’s recommendations, have apologised to the family and paid compensation. We have issued an up to date EHCP and are confident that Y is getting the right support and education."
He added that the case reflected the national pressure that all local authorities across the country are experiencing when it comes to meeting the ever increasing demand from families for SEND support for their children.
“Like other local authorities, we have found it difficult to keep up with increasing demand in this area and we are sorry for that. But we have pledged to work with our health and education partners – and of course families – to improve services for children with special educational needs in our county and we have an ambitious strategy to address it, which Ofsted inspectors recognised in a recent report."
Cllr Fisher said: "We’re already investing £120m in special educational needs and disabilities to create more specialist places and we’re increasing our support to schools, so that they can help their children earlier. We’ve also increased capacity in our specialist teams and, as inspectors said, this is starting to make a real difference to children and their families. We are also confident that our future reporting to our People and Communities Select Committee will help to identify service improvements.
“Alongside other councils, and to inform the Government’s review of SEND, we continue to highlight the challenges that we are all facing and to call for a national approach to help resolve it.”