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Dorset to improve alternative education provision after boy misses out on education for nearly two years

An Ombudsman investigation has found that a boy with special educational needs missed out on education for almost two years, after Dorset Council failed to provide the boy with proper alternative education.

The boy’s mother complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman that her son, who has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and traits of Autism, had been experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety when he became unable to attend school.

Between February 2020 and November 2021, the boy was provided with very little suitable education, or support for his needs, apart from a brief period where he was provided with social activities.

The boy's mother was unable to obtain paid employment during the period he did not have a suitable school place and became frustrated by the Council’s poor handling of her enquiries.

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The investigation found the council failed to provide the boy with proper alternative education and social support for much of the period.

It also found fault with the way the council reviewed the boy’s Education, Health and Care Plan, and criticised the council’s communication with the boy’s mother and the way it handled her complaints.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “Councils have a duty to ensure alternative education is provided for children who are unable to attend school for whatever reason, and they cannot delegate this duty to schools or other providers.

“In this case, a boy with special needs has been without proper education for a significant period.

“I’m also issuing a special report today highlighting this case is not unique – far too many children across the country are missing out on the vital support they need to achieve their full potential because they are being denied their basic right to an education.

“I am pleased Dorset Council has readily agreed to the recommendations I have made to put things right in this case. I hope the changes it will make to the way it keeps track of children out of school, and the services it provides for them, will ensure other children are not disadvantaged like this child.”

In this case the council has agreed to apologise to the mother and pay her £500 to recognise the lost opportunity for her child to receive education between May and July 2020, and the lost opportunity to comment on the draft EHC Plan in February 2021.

It will also pay the mother £6,300 to recognise the impact of lost education on her son, plus a further £1,500 in recognition of the avoidable stress and anxiety caused. It will also pay a further £500 for the avoidable time and trouble and for the council’s poor communication.

Cllr Andrew Parry, Portfolio Holder for Children, Education, Skills and Early Help, Dorset Council, said: “We want all Dorset’s children and young people to receive the best education and start in life and are sorry we have failed to do this in this case.

“We have taken these matters seriously and have made a number of changes to our services so other families do not have to go through the same experience. We have also introduced additional improvements following our recent pilot Ofsted inspection and we will continue to proactively monitor our performance to address concerns raised by families.

“We have completed all the actions required by the Ombudsman and will update our Cabinet on each of these at its July meeting.”

The council has also agreed to ensure suitable alternative provision is made for children who need it. It will show the Ombudsman how it will track alternative provision being made to children and how it will ensure children who are out of school meet their educational and special educational needs.

Lottie Winson

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