WORCESTERSHIRE County Council has been slammed by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman after the way it dealt with a complaint led to a boy with special educational needs (SEN) missing out on 14 months of schooling.
The mum contacted the council as the child could no longer cope at his primary school because mainstream education was unsuitable for him.
The length of time it took to deal with the complaint at the first stage left the parent with no option but to appeal to the Ombudsman who found the council was at fault as it had no timescales for the different stages and created a clear potential for delay.
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.”
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 was not allowed to return.
The council was not able to offer the boy suitable alternative educational provision until February 2019.
Instead he received just one hour a week of intervention and play therapy.
There was no evidence the council had assessed whether he could only cope with such limited provision.
The boy’s mum complained and the council twice confirmed there was no appropriate alternative locally but did not issue a new Education, Health and Care plan for the boy or write to his mother refusing to do so.
This denied the mother the right to challenge the council through the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Tribunal.
Following the ruling the council has agreed to apologise to the mother for failing to provide education and deliver the SEN provision in her son’s EHC plan.
The authority will also pay the mum £4,200 to use for her son’s benefit and issue an up-to-date EHC plan for the boy.
And it has agreed to 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.
Sarah Wilkins, Worcestershire County Council’s Assistant Director of Education and Early Help, said the authority accepted the recommendations and apologised to the complainant for its failings.
“We will use our learning from this investigation and work with our partners to take appropriate further actions to improve services.”
The Ombudsman welcomed the authority’s prompt acceptance of the recommendations.