The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has criticised Norfolk County Council over its provision for children with special education needs after upholding 11 complaints in two years.
The Ombudsman’s comments came after the completion of the two latest investigations.
In the first case, a mother complained the council did not provide her son with suitable education provision for nearly two academic years, and took nearly 46 weeks – more than twice the statutory timescale - to complete his Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).
She also complained that Norfolk provided her with very little support during the time her son was not receiving full-time education.
In the second case, a boy’s EHCP took 26 weeks to produce. “And when the primary school-aged boy was excluded from school, the council did not provide him with suitable education provision, causing him to miss out on full-time education for eight months,” the LGO said.
The council has agreed to:
- in the first case, pay the family £4,000 to acknowledge the delay in producing the EHCP and a further £250 for their time and trouble coming to the Ombudsman;
- in the second case, apologise to the family and pay them £3,500 to recognise the injustice caused by the council’s actions and the time and trouble the family were put to in bringing the complaint. It will also pay the boy’s mother £400 for the cost of commissioning her own dyslexia report, and provide a laptop and any other technological assistance identified in the boy’s EHCP;
- a number of service reviews and improvements following the two reports, including examining other ways of providing alternative education for children out of school, and completing an audit of children missing from education for whom it has a duty to provide education;
- review its processes to ensure EHCP are produced within statutory timescales; and
- improve the way it monitors missing professional advice it needs to complete the plans.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “We have issued a focus report on out-of-school education provision for children, and on councils’ use of Education, Health and Care Plans, and expect councils to use these to scrutinise, learn from and improve the services they provide to children in their areas.
“In both cases these children were without the vital support and provision they needed at crucial times of their education. I hope the remedies the council has agreed will go some way to repairing the damage done.
“We welcome the proactive steps the council is now taking to improve its provision and oversight of services for children with SEN, and hope this will ensure children will get the support they need in future.”
A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said: "We want all children to get access to the very best education and we are very sorry that there were delays for both of these children and their families. Both children are now in full-time places and doing well at school.
"It is encouraging that the LGO has welcomed the proactive steps we’ve taken to improve provision and oversight of services for children with SEN since these complaints were raised. This includes £125m to create more special school places and specialist places in mainstream schools, £1.5m of investment that we’ve just announced to double our specialist teams and additional outreach to help schools to support their children.”
The spokesman said Norfolk fully accepted the LGO’s findings and had already complied with all of recommendations from both reports.
“Like many authorities we have faced unprecedented increasing demand for EHCPs, with requests more than doubling over three years but we have clear plans in place to address this,” he added.
“There were 1,060 requests for EHCP assessments in 2018 – up from 172 in 2014. The county council has already made some increases to the teams of EHCP coordinators and Educational Psychologists that work in this area. It will now double the capacity.”
The spokesman also said that the increase in demand for special education needs assessments had coincided with the requirement to convert old style statements of special educational need into the new EHCPs.
“Changes in legislation have meant that anyone could request an assessment and that the new plans had to bring together both children’s education and health needs,” he added.
“EHCPs are for children with the highest levels of need and children do not need a plan in order to receive specialist support in a mainstream school. However, they do need a plan to attend a special school.”