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Ombudsman recommends county council pay nearly £7k after boy left without education for two years

A boy with special education needs who received “virtually no” education for two years should be given £6,900 in compensation by Suffolk County Council, an investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has recommended.

The child has autism spectrum disorder and anxiety disorder. He also has eating problems, which have affected his physical development, sensory sensitivities, and delayed motor skill development.

He previously attended a mainstream primary school; however, his difficulties were affecting his learning.

In 2016, the boy, referred to as 'C' in the report, was placed in a temporary specialist placement with a view to eventually moving to a long term placement school (School 2).

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The boy attended the school for about a year until his attendance began to decline, and the school noticed an increase in his anxiety levels. In October 2017, the school made an attendance referral to the council's Education Welfare Service.

Plans were made by the Special Needs Team to organise a visit of the boy at his current school to assess his situation and consider again whether he should be moved to the second school. But in December 2017, the boy stopped attending his school entirely.

His annual review in June 2018 noted that he had made no academic progress as he had not attended school since December 2017, except for a short visit. The review found that he would benefit from a period of home-schooling before moving on to a placement at a moderate learning difficulties (MLD) provision class for Key Stage 3, possibly at School 2.

In August, the council wrote to Mr and Mrs B and explained it had noted the recommendations in the Annual Review. It said it considered that C's EHCP remained appropriate, although the EHCP still referred to a temporary placement at School 1. It advised the family that they could appeal the decision.

Later, efforts were made by the council to find a third school but problems with long travel times arose. At this time the council also approached School 2 again, but upon considering the boy's lack of schooling for more than a year, it said its provision would not be suitable for him.

By Spring 2019, the family had made a telephone complaint and then written complaints about the lack of provision for C. They explained that the mother had to give up her work to care for the boy.

In March 2019, the boy received his first home education session. However, soon after the teacher was dismissed with just three sessions having taking place. Research by the family suggested that the firing was due to an earlier dismissal for misconduct. The boy found it difficult managing the transition to a new teacher and it was agreed that the new teacher would be withdrawn.

Eventually, Family Services wrote to the family to confirm that a place at School 2 would be offered to the boy from January 2020. However, C found it hard to reintegrate and was only able to manage two days in March, before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.

The Ombudsman found that the council should have taken steps to ensure that educational provision was in place once it was clear that the boy would be out of education for 15 days after he stopped attending school in December 2017.

The Ombudsman acknowledged that it had been a complex situation for the council to deal with. But the council's duty was to ensure that the boy was receiving suitable education once it was clear that he would be out of school for more than 15 days and not receiving suitable provision from the school, it said.

"C was out of school for two years from December 2017. During this time, he had virtually no education or SEN provision as set out in his EHCP.”

It added: "Given C's needs, the complete lack of provision and the time out of education, I consider that the highest end of the recommended range is appropriate. Based on nine months' schooling a year for two years at £600 per month (18 x £600), I consider that the council should pay Mr and Mrs B £5,400 for C's benefit for the loss of his education and SEN provision.”

The Ombudsman also found that the situation has left the boy socially isolated and has had a severe impact on his mental health. As a result, he recommended an additional payment of £1,000 be made for C's benefit in recognition of this.

A further payment of £500 to the parents was also recommended in recognition of the distress that the situation has caused them.

Suffolk County Council has been approached for a comment.

Adam Carey

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