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Council to pay £8,000 to family of vulnerable boy left without education for 14 months, as Ombudsman alleges lack of understanding of legal obligations

A Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigation has found Cambridgeshire County Council at fault after a vulnerable boy was left without education for 14 months.

The council has made an apology, despite initially refusing to agree to any of the Ombudsman’s recommendations to put things right for the family.

The nine-year-old has special educational needs, including severe neuro-disabilities and speech and language delay. He was advised by his GP not to attend school throughout the pandemic.

He has had no formal schooling since September 2020 and has only in the last month been provided with some education at home.

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The council issued the boy’s Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan in 2016, and last amended it in 2018. It should have reviewed this annually but has failed to do so, meaning the boy’s plan does not reflect his current needs and the support he requires to meet them, the Ombudsman said.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “The family tell me they have been ignored and misled by the council. Nobody from the council has checked on their son’s wellbeing, or their own, and its poor handling of their case continues to cause them significant distress.

“I am concerned that throughout my investigation the council has demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding of its role in the SEND process and of its legal obligations and duties towards children in the county.

“Additionally, the council’s poor response to my investigation is also a major concern. It is an issue highlighted in my recent report about complaints handling during the pandemic, where we saw some councils abandoning high-quality complaint handling.”

The council has since made an apology. A spokesperson for Cambridgeshire said: "We understand and accept the judgement, and our Chief Executive Stephen Moir has made a personal apology to the family. We know we could and should have done better. The compensation suggested by the Local Government Ombudsman is being made.

"There is much more that needs to be done to support children with special educational needs and disabilities in Cambridgeshire, which is why it has been made a priority by our Joint Administration.

"A full plan looking at our progress in addressing the actions identified by the Ombudsman in this case will be discussed by the Children’s and Young People’s Committee in July."

The Ombudsman has advised the council to arrange alternative provision for the boy until he can return to school.

To remedy the injustice caused, the Ombudsman report recommends the council should:

  • pay the family £7,000 to recognise the lack of education and special educational needs provision from September 2020 to February 2022, and a further £1,000 to recognise the stress, frustration and time and trouble caused to the family.
  • issue an amended final EHC plan for the son and advise the parents of their right of appeal to the SEND tribunal
  • secure the provision in this amended final EHC plan and explain to them in writing how the provision will be delivered as part of or alongside their son's alternative education provision
  • set a date for an annual review following the issue of this amended final EHC plan.

Lottie Winson

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