Hertfordshire County Council ordered to pay out almost £5000 to family by Ombudsman

An investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman has found the county council to be ‘at fault’ for failing to provide suitable education to a boy

Friday, 3rd December 2021, 3:53 pm
Updated Friday, 3rd December 2021, 3:54 pm

Hertfordshire County Council has agreed to pay-out £4,500 in recognition of its failure to provide a child with a suitable education for more than a year, following an investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman.

By law, councils must make ‘suitable’ educational provision for all children of compulsory school age who, because of illness, exclusion or otherwise, may not receive suitable education unless such arrangements are made for them.

And that provision must be suitable for the child’s age, ability and aptitude, including any special needs.

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Hertfordshire County Council ordered to pay out almost £5000 to family by Ombudsman

But an investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman has found the county council to be ‘at fault’ for failing to provide suitable education to a boy – who has special educational needs, including autism – following a stay in a mental health unit in 2018.

The initial complaint – made by the boy’s mother, who is not identified in the report – highlighted how her son had ‘fallen further behind’ and how the situation had ‘affected the family relationship’ and caused ‘distress’.

And in the report, the Ombudsman points to a series of failings that had resulted in the boy not receiving adequate education, between July 2019 and September 2020.

Following his discharge from the unit, says the report, the unit had recommended the boy receive specialist autistic spectrum disorder educational provision, as well as there being support for the boy’s parents.

The boy, says the report, was given two one-hour tuition sessions a week at home, from the county’s ‘education support for medical absence’ (ESMA) team.

But the boy remained on roll at the same mainstream school – with the county council saying it could not find an alternative placement and that they are looking to put provision in place for the boy at the school.

And during this time the county council started to assess the boy for an ‘education health and care plan’ (EHCP).

In March 2019 the council’s provision panel considered that he was best suited to a school for children with social, emotional and mental health issues.

But after consulting with one of those schools, the school concluded that they could not meet his needs.

Nevertheless, the Ombudsman says that the council was at ‘fault’ because it did not consult with any of the other five ‘social, emotional and mental health’ schools.

In the report, the Ombudsman also highlights the time between reviews of the tutoring provision – saying he would have expected it to be kept ‘under review’.

And – following a tutoring review in June 2019 – the report points to the county council’s failure to plan a weekly timetable for the boy to take place outside the home.

In November 2019 the boy’s parents and the council also visited an independent specialist school, but the family did not think it was suitable.

And in the following February, the tuition sessions from ESMA were put on hold, with the council saying the boy was no longer engaging with the ESMA teacher.

It was at this stage that the boy’s mum lodged a formal complaint – pointing to failings in the education provision and a lack of support for the family.

The Ombudsman notes that there were review meetings in late 2019 and 2020 – but suggests that they did not put in place a reintegration programme or discuss suggestions such as small group teaching to get him back at school.

During 2019 and most of 2020 the report says he was ‘only receiving two hours of home tutoring per week and not receiving the provision listed in his EHC plan’. And he says, ‘this is fault’.

And he concludes that the failure to review the provision panel’s recommendation and to consult with other SEMH schools, as well as put in place an adequate reintegration programme, has resulted in the boy not receiving adequate education.

Neither has the boy, he says, received the special educational provision listed in his EHC plan. And as a result, he says he has fallen behind at school.

Following the lodging of the complaint, the Ombudsman reports that the boy has started to partially attend the mainstream school he was allocated.

And according to the report by September last year (2020) he was attending three mornings per week and two full days.

As part of the complaint the mother also pointed to a delay in allocating a social worker and providing her with direct payments until September 2019.

And – following the Ombudsman’s investigation – the county council has agreed to pay her an additional £400 to reflect the distress and anxiety caused by the time taken to provide a social worker and respite provision.

In response to the Ombudsan’s findings, a Hertfordshire County Council spokesperson said: “We take the Ombudsman’s findings very seriously and where they find we have been at fault, we work hard to understand why it happened, how we can put it right and how we can prevent it happening again.”

“Following this investigation, Hertfordshire County Council recognise and apologise for the difficulties faced by this family.”