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Council agrees £4,000 payout after Ombudsman investigation into how teenager with SEN missed out on education

A county council has agreed to pay £4,000 after a teenager with special educational needs missed out on nearly a year’s education because the local authority did not plan for her to move schools when she finished Year 11, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) has found.

The Ombudsman noted that 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 the case of the teenager, 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 teenager had missed so much schooling, Devon County Council also asked her mother to repay tax credits that she had been receiving, which caused the family unnecessary hardship, the LGSCO said.

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The Ombudsman’s investigation found Devon 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.

It also said that 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 found fault as well with the way the council failed to sort out provision for the teenager in the Autumn term of 2019. The LGSCO also criticised the council’s communication and record keeping.

Following the investigation Devon has agreed to:

  • apologise;
  • 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”;
  • pay the mother the equivalent tax credits she lost;
  • 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.

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.”

Cllr Andrew Leadbetter, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member with responsibility for children’s services, said: "We do our very best to make sure that children and young people can have the best starts in life, with access to good education. But on this occasion, we should have done more to understand her needs and those of her family, and we did not get it right. I apologise sincerely to this young person and her family."

He added: “We are investing in providing more places in our special schools, and developing improved support for children with special educational needs.

“We are reviewing our procedures for post-16 education arrangements for young people with Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) and auditing our handling of all post-16 transition arrangements for young people with EHCPs for the last two years.

“We fully accept and will comply with all of the Ombudsman’s recommendations.”

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