Wirral Council apologises to family after child ‘missed out’ on a year of school

Wirral Council has apologised to a family and paid £3,350 after failings meant a child “missed out” on a year of school.

The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) received a complaint from a mum, referred to as Ms X, for failing to find a suitable school placement for her child with special educational needs, referred to as B, for over three years and poorly communicating with her throughout.

As a result, Ms X said she “experienced avoidable distress and anxiety and her child missed out on education and support in a suitable school.”

In its findings, the Ombudsman found the council at fault. The local authority then agreed to apologise to the family, pay Ms X £350 “in recognition of her avoidable distress and uncertainty,” and pay B £3,000, £1,000 for each term they didn’t receive a full-time education.

The council was also recommended to improve its services to address delays in developing education, health, and care plans (ECHP) for those with special needs and “remind it of its duty to make alternative provision in decisions on other complaints.”

EHCPs set out a child’s special education needs, what provision is needed and Wirral Council has a duty to make sure this is provided. If the council chooses to make changes, it must let the parent or young person know and provide a copy of all changes.

When the council received a complaint over the issue, it said it “did everything possible” and was not at fault but did apologise for failing to communicate effectively including “delay responding to contact and failing to attend meetings without notice.”

However, the Ombudsman found the council had completed B’s annual review in December 2021 but didn’t issue a final plan until June 2022. It was also found at fault for taking two months to issue an amended plan with just one change.

The Ombudsman also found the council was at fault for ignoring repeated requests not to look at schools too far away due to B’s difficulties travelling long distances. Wirral Council told the Ombudsman it had not been provided with any evidence, but emails over three years showed the mum telling the council of her child’s difficulties travelling due to motion sickness and anxiety.

The Ombudsman said there was “no evidence of any efforts by the council to explore this further” and upheld Ms X’s complaint. It said, “As a result of this fault, Ms X felt ignored and that the Council was not considering B’s needs. This is an injustice to Ms X. The Council also spent avoidable time and resources looking for unsuitable placements.”

It also said “there is no evidence the Council made any efforts to find a school for B from July 2022 until January 2023. This is a period of six months.” The Ombudsman also found the education provided to B did not meet the requirements set out in their EHCP.

While the Ombudsman recognised B “has always had access to some form of education,” it said the fact they have “missed out on a year of full-time education” was a “significant injustice.”

The LGO can investigate maladministration and service failure at local authorities like Wirral Council and may recommend actions be taken or financial compensation. The investigation looked into events since December 2021 as the Ombudsman cannot investigate complaints over 12 months except in exceptional circumstances

The issue started after B finished at a special school in October 2020 and did not go to school for four months. While some tutoring and alternative provision was given instead, Ms X and B wanted them to attend a mainstream school.

A school child B was enrolled at in January 2022 told the family they couldn’t not meet the child’s needs and could not go back to school after Easter. This was when Wirral Council began consulting with other schools including outside of the borough despite Ms X’s concern this would mean the child arrived “too distressed and agitated to learn” after a long car journey.

During this time, B received some tutoring from an alternative provider with a final EHCP issued in June 2022 but only had one change. By July, B had only attended six out of 54 tutoring sessions as their attendance dropped and Ms X said she would try to educate B at home, asking for advice and resources. The council then provided a laptop, lessons for one hour a day, and work for B to complete online.

In August, Ms X asked for B to receive education otherwise than at school (EOTAS) but the council said “it would only do this if no education setting could meet B’s needs or offer a place.” An emergency review of the ECHP was then called in early October but “had to be cancelled because no one from the council attended.” In January 2023, it then consulted with five schools but these were either too far away or full or did not respond.

However, the report said now B has started tutoring sessions which were set up in March 2023 with an alternative provider, they are “doing well” and “making good progress”.

Wirral Council’s SEND services were inspected in 2021. This found that while some frontline workers and schools were praised, “too often in the past, leaders have not delivered on their promises. Often, families are pushed to the limits, emotionally, financially and physically. They feel overlooked and ignored as well as blamed for asking for the help that their children need.”

A spokesperson for Wirral Council said, “We acknowledge the findings of the Ombudsman in this case and have taken all actions required, including apologising to the family concerned.

“Wirral’s SEND partnership continues to making the improvements required following the Local Area SEND inspection in 2021, which includes addressing delays in issuing Education, Health and Care Plans.

“Progress, whilst not as quick as we would have wanted, is steady, with performance climbing towards the national average from a very low baseline in 2021. We fully recognise our duty to make alternative provision available for children not able to attend school and all staff have recently received update training on those responsibilities.”

Why not follow birkenhead.news on Facebook, Twitter, and Threads? You can also send story ideas or letters to the editor to news@birkenhead.news