Special needs child wins council damages

18th August 1995 at 01:00
A child and his family have been awarded Pounds 1,250 compensation after waiting eight months for a school place.

The Local Government Ombudsman found that the London borough of Ealing was guilty of maladministration. It had no alternatives ready when its plans to build a new specialist teaching unit collapsed.

As a result the child, who has special educational needs but wanted a place in a mainstream secondary school, was kept at home and his education was severely disrupted, concluded the Ombudsman Edward Osmotherly in his report.

The case highlights some difficult issues facing education authorities.

First, no primary school was willing to co-operate with Ealing's attempts to set up a new unit for children with emotional and behavioural problems on the same site as an existing school. This left the council unable to follow Government advice and close down a separate special school.

Then, deprived of the unit which was to have taught the child, Ealing attempted to place him at the nearby grant-maintained school. This school was favoured by the family and had spare places. But the GM school refused, a decision which, despite repeated efforts, the LEA was powerless to change.

It has been a consistent complaint from local authorities that, while they have the final responsibility for special needs, the autonomy of the GM sector leaves them unable to govern the number of places available.

Eventually Ealing persuaded one of its own schools to accept the pupil - even though that school already had the largest proportion of children with statements of special need in London and was reluctant to take on another.

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