Liverpool Council has been forced to pay out thousands of pounds after failing to provide timely support to a pupil with special educational needs.
An investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found that the city council caused “personal injustice” in how it handled the case of a teenage girl and her mum seeking alternative education provision during the academic year 2021-22. During this time time, the student – known as Miss Y – was out of school for eight months.
A complaint was also raised by her mum – Ms X – that the issue was not dealt with in line with local authority policy. In a bid to remedy the situation, Liverpool Council agreed a financial settlement with the family.
According to findings made public by the Ombudsman, Ms X complained the council failed to ensure her daughter, Miss Y, received all the provision set out in her Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan in the academic year 2021-22, during which Miss Y was out of school for eight months. Ms X said Miss Y fell behind, which caused significant distress for her and her family.
The Ombudsman said, “Ms X was put to avoidable time and trouble pursuing the council to resolve the matter.”
Ms X complained in April this year about a lack of provision for Miss Y throughout her secondary school education. Although Ms X said the family were caused significant stress as a result of the council’s failings, she did not provide good reasons for not complaining sooner about the period before 2021-2022 according to the ombudsman.
During the school year 2021-22, Miss Y was in her final year of compulsory education. The school she attended reported all the provision in the EHC plan was being delivered.
Ms X disagreed, seeking one-to-one for her daughter, but this was not in the plan. Liverpool Council offered Miss Y 10 additional support sessions, targeted to help the student catch up, but her mother declined according to the ombudsman’s report, which said the offer had been turned down as the sessions “would have been delivered at the end of the school day.”
Ms X wanted the school to make changes to its timetable to include the extra sessions during the school day, but the council explained this was not possible as it did not have enough staff to make the changes Ms X asked for.
An annual review of Miss Y’s EHC plan was held in October 2021. Neither Ms X, nor Miss Y attended the meeting. They tried to arrange an alternative date for the review but said Ms X did not respond.
Additionally, the school said it tried to speak to Ms X about how it could support Miss Y to return to school but she did not return its calls. Following this, the council consulted alternative schools but could not identify one that could meet Miss Y’s needs.
In February 2022, an officer was appointed to become Miss Y’s SEND caseworker. They contacted the school to ask what steps it had taken to arrange alternative provision for Miss Y.
Officials said the school had not been able to progress this as Ms X was not engaging with it.
From September 2022, a new provision was found for Miss Y, more than a year after issues were first raised. The Ombudsman said Liverpool Council accepted Ms X’s initial complaint had not been responded to in a timely manner, which meant she had made the same complaint again.
Its response to the complaint made in July 2022 was delayed due to Miss Y’s first school being closed for the summer holidays, which caused a delay in getting the information it needed to complete its investigation. Liverpool Council apologised for the delays and acknowledged it needed to improve its communication with Ms X.
The authority accepted it had not done enough to secure the provision in Miss Y’s EHC plan in 2021-2022 and offered to pay Ms X £1,750 for her to arrange additional education to help Miss Y catch up. Additionally, a payment of £250 was made for her time and trouble pursuing the complaint.
A spokesperson for Liverpool Council said, “We accept the findings of the Ombudsman’s investigation. We acknowledge that our handling of the concerns raised fell short of what any parent or carer should rightfully expect from Liverpool City Council.
“We have already started to use the learning from the report to review and improve our processes.”