Council told to pay £3,500 to special needs child’s mother over series of education failings

Ombudsman criticises council for failing to secure a range of provision the child needed for several months, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

A child with special needs missed out on months of education because of failings by Enfield Council, a watchdog has found.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has ordered the council to pay £3,500 in compensation to the child’s mother after she said the failings caused her “significant distress” and harmed her son’s development.

A report by the ombudsman states that the council issued an amended education, health and care plan (EHCP) for the child – referred to as ‘W’ to protect his identity – in March 2020. EHCPs set out the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send) and how they should be met.

W’s plan noted that he has severe dyslexia as well as challenges with language, literacy and working memory. It said he needed speech and language strategies, sessions with an occupational therapist three times a term, weekly one-to-one literacy sessions and weekly one-to-one sessions with a social and emotional development specialist.

After missing the start of post-16 education in 2020/21 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the youngster started a college course in September 2021, but the college had told the council it was unable to meet some of the provision set out in the EHCP.

At a meeting about the suitability of the plan in late January 2022, it was noted the council had taken no substantive action to arrange the SEN provision the college could not offer.

EHCPs are supposed to be reviewed every year to ensure the child’s needs continue to be met, but the ombudsman found that the council did not carry out an annual review in 2021.

It finally held an annual review in May 2022 and issued an amended plan in August, which named a new college where W wanted to attend a different course. The council dropped the weekly literacy support and sessions with the social and emotional development specialist.

The plan now included more substantial occupational therapy input and speech and language therapy support, but the council admitted to the ombudsman it had not secured this provision.

A further review in February this year led to weekly literacy sessions being included in the plan again, but the council told the ombudsman it “cannot find any evidence to support that weekly literacy sessions were, or still are, required for [W]”.

In late April 2023, the council told the ombudsman that it had arranged speech and language therapy and occupational therapy provision, which were due to begin imminently.

But W’s mother told the watchdog that as of early July 2023, her son had not had any of the literacy sessions set out in the February plan, and a visit from the speech and language therapist was cancelled. She added that the occupational therapist had visited W at college once several months earlier, but nothing had happened since then and other provision in the plan remained outstanding.

The watchdog criticised the council for failing to carry out a review of W’s EHCP for two-and-a-half years and for failing to secure a range of Send provision – literacy sessions, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and social and emotional development sessions – for months at a time.

It said it was likely that this had an impact on W’s skills and development and meant his time at college was less beneficial than it could have been, as well as causing his mother “significant avoidable frustration”.

The ombudsman told the council to apologise and pay £900 for each term of missed Send provision, totalling £3,100, in addition to £400 in recognition of the injustice caused by its failings.

Enfield Council has been approached for comment.

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