Council criticised over 14-month SEND education delay

Worcestershire council reprimanded by ombudsman after SEND pupil was left with just one hour a week of play therapy

Mark Smulian

An ombudsman has criticised Worcestershire County Council after a SEND pupil was left without appropriate education for 14 months

An ombudsman has criticised Worcestershire County Council over a case in which a boy with special educational needs missed out on 14 months of appropriate education when he could no longer attend his primary school.

Local government and social care ombudsman Michael King said the council had not properly handled a complaint made by the boy’s mother about the lack of alternative education.

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Worcestershire took too long to deal with the matter and Mr King said the council’s complaints policy was faulty because it did not have timescales for different stages and so created a clear potential for delay.

Failure in SEND support

Following Mr King’s intervention, the council has agreed to apologise to the mother, pay her £4,200 to be used for her son’s benefit and issue an up-to-date education, health and care (EHC) plan for him.

It also agreed to carry out an emergency review whenever a child with an EHC plan is out of education, and to review its corporate complaints procedure.

The boy, described as being of primary school age, needed two-to-one support, but by December 2017 he could no longer cope in his primary school.

The ombudsman report said he has “a very low tolerance of frustration and requires two-to-one support in school”.

The school excluded him as “it felt the level of violence meant that two-to-one support was not enough", but instead of permanently excluding him kept him on-roll with the agreement of the council even though he would not be allowed to return.

Worcestershire was unable to offer any suitable alternative provision until February 2019, and during this period the boy received only one hour a week of intervention and play therapy.

Throughout this time the boy’s mother complained but the council neither issued a new EHC plan nor wrote to her refusing to issue one, which left her unable to challenge the situation through the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal.

Mr King 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”.

Sarah Wilkins, Worcestershire’s assistant director of education and early help, said: “We have accepted the recommendations of the investigation and have apologised to the complainant for our failings.

“We will use our learning from this investigation and work with our partners to take appropriate further actions to improve services.”

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Mark Smulian

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