Council condemned for leaving boy with SEND out of education for a year

Ombudsman criticises Cornwall Council over support for pupil with special educational needs

John Roberts

Ombudsman has criticised the delays in a child getting an EHC plan

A boy with special educational needs who was excluded from primary school because of behavioural problems missed out on full-time education for 12 months because teams in a local council did not communicate with each other, an investigation has found.

A Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has criticised the delays in Cornwall Council providing the pupil with the right support.

And it said the authority was wrong to initially reject a request for the pupil to have an assessment for an education, health and care plan (EHCP). 

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The boy’s family and experts – including the council’s own social worker, autism needs adviser, and educational psychologist – asked the council to carry out an EHCP assessment in 2015.

However, the council’s educational panel decided there was not enough evidence that the boy met the threshold.

It took more than a year, and two further requests for assessment, for the council to decide the child needed to be assessed.

The ombudsman said that when the final EHCP was issued, it set out that "a significant amount of help was needed to allow the boy to receive an education and manage his emotions and behaviour".

The investigation found Cornwall’s children’s services department became involved with the boy and his family in 2015. 

But the education department told the Ombudsman it first knew the boy was not receiving a full-time education was in November 2016.

The Ombudsman decided the boy would have had his EHCP earlier and received full-time education sooner if support had been in place.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “This case highlights the importance of council departments working together, communicating properly and sharing information to ensure the correct support is provided in a timely way.

“The council also applied too high a threshold for deciding whether or not to assess the boy for an EHC Plan. The threshold for deciding an assessment is low – a council only needs to be satisfied a child may have special educational needs and may require provision. In this case, there was ample evidence the boy met this."

Earlier this year the ombudsman warned that delays, poor administration and inadequate gathering of evidence when issuing EHCPs was having a “significant impact” on children with special educational needs and disability (SEND) nationally.

And more than 3,800 children with existing statements of special educational needs were still waiting for new EHCPs after the 1 April deadline passed last year.

Cornwall Council has agreed to apologise to the family for its failure to assess the boy for an EHCP in 2015 and August 2016.

It will pay the family £2,500 to recognise the injustice caused as a result of missed education, distress and time and trouble caused to the mother.

The council will pay the mother £1,000 to fund additional activities for the boy to suit his needs.

Cornwall Council has also agreed to produce guidance for its children’s services and education departments about information sharing and responsibilities around children with SEND who are either out of education or not receiving full-time education.

It will amend its guidance on children eligible for an EHCP assessment to ensure these are lawful and in-line with legislation, guidance and case law.

A statement from Cornwall Council said: "We accept the report from the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) and its findings.  The support provided by the council to his family and the communication between the different teams within the council in this case fell short of the standards we expect. We have apologised to his family for these failings.

“Cornwall Council is implementing all the actions recommended by the LGO promptly, particularly effective communications between services and information for families, in order to prevent other children having to wait so long for the support they need.

“We have taken on board all the feedback provided by the LGO and will use that to inform better working practices.  We have already reviewed the communication channels internally and with our partners, to ensure a more integrated way of working.”


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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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