Father furious at wasted year

29th October 2004 at 01:00
Parent blasts 'derisory ' pound;2,250 damages after authority fails to find school place for his daughter. Jon Slater reports

A father offered pound;2,250 compensation after a council was blamed for his daughter missing a year's schooling has criticised the award as "totally derisory and unacceptable".

Dave Klein said the money was insufficient to make up for what Keri-Dawn, his teenage daughter, had missed.

"How do you value at least one year's education? It's priceless," he said.

Keri-Dawn quit Aylwin school, a comprehensive in the London borough of Southwark, in summer 2000 aged 12 after complaining that she was being bullied.

She spent two years out of school after refusing to accept a place in a pupil referral unit and rejecting a secondary in a neighbouring borough.

Keri-Dawn eventually won a place at Geoffrey Chaucer school in Southwark with the support of an appeals panel and returned to school in September 2002.

She sat GCSEs this summer gaining three grade Ds and three Fs and is now attending Southwark further education college.

Jerry White, the local government ombudsman, found Southwark council guilty of maladministration in the way it dealt with Keri-Dawn's absence from school.

He found that significant failings in the council's procedure had increased the time she spent out of school by up to a year.

Mr White said Southwark's failure to inform Keri-Dawn's parents of the right to appeal against the refusal of other schools to offer her a place until 2002 was likely to have cost her a year's schooling.

But he also said her parents must accept a substantial part of the blame for failing to exercise their legal responsibility to ensure she attended school. Mr White recommended that the council pay pound;2,000 to be spent on Keri-Dawn's education and pound;250 as compensation for the time taken by Mr Klein in pursuing his complaint.

There is no limit to awards that can be made by the ombudsman but councils can refuse to pay if they believe they have been unfairly treated. Mr White said: "I have to decide what is reasonable for the public purse to bear given that this money will come out of Southwark's education budget."

Mr Klein has complained to the ombudsman about the remedy.

"A pound;2,000 tag on at least a year's education is incredible - it will buy between 80 to 100 hours of private tutoring, equivalent to two to three weeks at school. Regarding my time, pound;250 is OK if you value it at pound;1 to pound;1.25 an hour. The minimum wage is pound;4.85."

Mr Klein wants the officers responsible to be demoted and for Southwark to take action against WS Atkins, the private consultancy business that ran the borough's education service at the time.

A council spokeswoman said: "We are pleased that the Ombudsman recognised that the parents must take some responsibility for the gap in this child's education. Cambridge Education Associates (who now run schools' services) and Southwark Council have jointly reviewed the processes that had been in place for some time to avoid this happening again."

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