Mum forced to ‘chase’ Hertfordshire County Council for education plan for son with autism

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Council has not stuck to statutory timeframes for Education, Health and Care Plans "several times" in recent years

A woman who was forced to “chase” a Hertfordshire council for paperwork relating to her son’s autism has been paid £450 for the failure.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman – which looks at wrongdoing at councils across the country – has concluded Hertfordshire County Council failed to keep children’s Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP) up to date “several times” in recent months.

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In this case, the child – identified as Z during an investigation – whose plan was not up to date lives with autism and anxiety, and missed so much school during “crucial” GCSE years that he was unable to sit exams.

Hertfordshire County CouncilHertfordshire County Council
Hertfordshire County Council

A council spokesperson said they would like to apologise to the family affected, adding that increasing levels of funding have been committed to special educational needs and disabilities since 2019.

An ombudsman report – which names the child’s mother as Ms X – notes Z attends a mainstream school, but since 2019, autism and anxiety had affected his attendance.

His existing EHCP at that point meant Z was allowed to access a part-time online learning programme, but due to his conditions, continued to miss classes.

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EHCPs are reviewed annually, and at the start of the May 2021 assessment, Ms X suggested her child should attend a specialist school.

The request was referred to a panel that summer, however, Ms X was not informed about the outcome of the panel and the ombudsman was unable to work out what the outcome of that meeting was during its investigation.

After complaining to the council in September 2021 about their failure to update her of the meeting outcome (a complaint with Hertfordshire County Council upheld) council staff consulted a specialist school on October 12, 2021.

One week later, the school told council staff they could not meet Z’s needs, and by December, the council consulted an agency to see whether they could provide one-to-one tutoring.

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After a second complaint about communications the same month, council staff said they would keep in touch on a fortnightly basis.

They failed to stick to the fortnightly check-ins.

The ombudsman found the EHCP process which began in May 2021 was never seen through to the end, which meant schools and the council did not have the right information about Z’s needs.

The council also failed to consult schools “promptly” and did not communicate well with Ms X.

The ombudsman report reads: “We cannot say, even on the balance of probabilities, whether but for the faults above, Z would have had better educational outcomes than he did between May 2021 and March 2022.

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“This is due to his anxiety significantly affecting his ability to access education during this complaint period.

“However, Ms X was caused significant uncertainty about whether more could have been done for Z.

“Ms X was also repeatedly put to time and trouble in chasing responses from the Council, including after it delayed consulting her preferred school.”

The council was asked to pay Ms X and Z £450 in compensation and urgently update Z’s plan.

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The ombudsman report additionally noted similar cases were reported “several times” in recent months, and that council staff have since been reminded it is important to stick to the “statutory timescales” for EHCP.

A Hertfordshire County Council spokesperson said: “We take the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s findings very seriously and where they find we have been at fault, we work hard to understand why that has happened, how we can put it right and how we can prevent it happening again.

“We would like to apologise to the family involved in this case.

“We are committed to working in partnership with young people, parents, carers and schools to ensure that all children in Hertfordshire receive the support they need and deserve.

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“The number of children being identified who may require SEND support continues to increase, raising challenges both nationally and here in Hertfordshire.

“In common with many local authorities, we are experiencing an unprecedented increase in requests for specialist provision, with a 47 per cent increase in pupils with Education and Health and Care Plans since 2019, as well as the additional challenges due to Covid-19.

“We are making new investments into the SEND system and are fully committed to making sure that all children with plans in Hertfordshire receive the support they need and deserve.”