Council ordered to pay family £5,300 for education provision mistakes

A family has been paid more than £5,000 after council mistakes led to “avoidable frustration, uncertainty, time and trouble”.

A mum, referred to as Mrs X, complained to the Local Government Ombudsman that the local authority had failed to issue an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) for her son who has special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

An investigation found Wirral Council “failed to provide appropriate education” from May 2023 to February 2024 and was ordered to apologise and pay Mrs X £5,300.

This includes “a symbolic amount” of £500 to Mrs X for “the avoidable frustration, uncertainty and time and trouble caused to her by the Council’s faults” and a payment of £4,800 to recognise the two terms of education missed by Mrs X’s son, referred to as Y.

The council was also ordered to improve services and remind staff how to deal with complaints and “act if they identify a child or young person who is not attending school during a needs assessment.”

Wirral Council’s services for those with special educational needs received a damning OFSTED inspection in 2021 which said families had been “pushed to the limit” but a council spokesperson said it had made steady progress since.

Mrs X contacted the council on 14 February, 2023 asking for an assessment of her son who was at a mainstream secondary school but hadn’t gone in for two weeks. She said her son “had a condition that affects behaviour, and anxiety and could not cope with a large mainstream secondary school and being at school A was affecting his physical and mental health.”

The local authority was aware that Y was missing school and was satisfied with the action being taken with Y receiving tuition out of school. It said it would review if the tuition was successful but the Ombudsman found the council failed to retain oversight and provide Y with alternative provision.

Wirral Council agreed to complete an assessment by 31 March which meant a final EHCP should have been issued by 4 July. However, in September no plan was submitted leading to a complaint. The local authority apologised saying the delay was due to an increase in applications but had taken steps to reduce waiting times.

Mrs X then took this complaint further but was told it would not be considered by the council at which point the mum took it to the Ombudsman. The council did issue a draft plan on 2 October and a final plan by February 2024, a delay of 30 weeks.

Wirral Council said it would have finalised the draft plan in December 2023 but did not do so because of a request by Mrs X. However the local authority was still found at fault because that isn’t a recognised exemption for a delay.

The Ombudsman said the delay “caused Mrs X frustration and uncertainty” as well as her ability to appeal but did consider “that Mrs X’s request to delay the final Plan and consult a school for a third time contributed to the delay from December onwards and mitigated some of the injustice caused to her in December 2023 and January 2024.”

A spokesperson for Wirral Council said, “The Local Authority recognises its duty in making alternative provision available for children not able to attend school and all staff have recently received update training on Local Authority responsibilities.

“We acknowledge the findings in this case and have apologised to the family and paid the compensation indicated by the Ombudsman. In addition the authority has taken all actions required by the Ombudsman.

“Wirral’s SEND partnership is working towards making improvements following the Local Area SEND inspection in 2021. This includes addressing delays in issuing Education, Health and Care Plans. Progress. While this is not as quick as we would have wanted, the improvement work is steady, with performance climbing towards the national average from what had been a very low baseline in 2021.”

Councils across the country have seen a significant increase in the number of EHCP applications which local authorities are required to assess “in a timely manner”.

In Wirral, the council is expected to face further pressure as ECHP caseloads are expected to grow by 48% between 2023 and 2028.

The Local Government Association which represents councils argues 2014 reforms had “failed to achieve the goal of improving provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities” and called for more reforms and resources to help councils support all children and young people with SEND.

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