Derbyshire County Council failed mum who was trying to get proper school care for her vulnerable son

Classroom
Classroom

Derbyshire County Council has had to pay out nearly £3,000 for failing a parent who was trying to get proper school care for her vulnerable son.

A watchdog has ruled the council dragged its feet in preparing a suitable plan for supporting the youngster, in one case sending a report to the wrong address.

This resulted in ‘distress’ and ‘injustice’ for the boy’s mum.

She had to hire an expert consultant at a cost of £1,600 to get the right support for her son, who needed help with his speech and physiotherapy.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO), a local authority watchdog, has called on the council to apologise to the family involved.

Councils are changing the system used to make sure disabled or vulnerable pupils get the special help they need at school.

They used to be given a Statement of Special Educational Needs but that is now being changed to an Education, Health and Care Plan.

A parent, referred to as Mrs D, had been attempting to ensure that the statement for her son (referred to as E) was transferred smoothly to an EHC.

The plans are processed and assessed by the county council. It currently has more than 3,000 on its books.

They are legal agreements intended to outline what support a child with special educational needs is entitled too and how the council and the pupil’s school will ensure that they are given sufficient support.

These children often have complex needs such as autism or cerebral palsy and may require a one-to-one teaching assistant, but some may simply require coloured paper to aid with dyslexia.

The move from statements to EHC plans was intended to involve the parents more and also to make schools and councils more accountable.

However, in this case, the LGO - led by Michael King - found that the county council had ‘failed’ Mrs D.

The LGO has ordered the council to pay Mrs D £300 for the time and trouble it has caused her, £300 for distress, £500 in compensation and £1,688.85 to cover the cost of her independent SEN consultant.

It has also ruled that the council must ‘amend its procedures to ensure that needs assessments are carried out properly and in accordance with guidance within four months’ of the decision.

The ombudsman looked at how the case was dealt with from February 2017 until June 2018.

Before a council can change a statement to an EHC plan it is bound by law to carry out a needs assessment.

As part of this process, the council ought to seek the advice of the parents, headteacher of the child’s school, medical professionals, educational psychologist and social care experts, among others.

This did not happen.

The council is also expected to carry out a formal review meeting at which those involved can discuss relevant information.

This also did not happen, said Mr King.

The council suggested to the ombudsman that this was the school’s fault, but the watchdog found this to be wrong.

Fortunately, the child involved was not found to have missed out on education during the time of the dispute.

If approved, a full EHC plan assessment is supposed to take up to 20 weeks to process. However, the county council has given itself a target of just two to three weeks to complete each one.

The council sent out a draft EHC plan in February 2017, with a final copy being issued in March of the same year.

However, these were sent to the wrong address and the final version was four weeks too late.

It then informed Mrs D that the ‘conversion process was concluded’.

Mr King said he disagrees, stating that regulations were not followed, costing Mrs D time and trouble.

She had wanted to ensure that E was supported in school.

Mrs D did not receive the draft EHC plan until April and wanted to make changes because some details were incorrect.

In May she asked an independent consultant for help – which the LGO supports as a reasonable decision because the council had not consulted with her or the relevant industry professionals.

The LGO also says that the council could have apologised to Mrs D as soon as it realised the plan had not been sent to the right address or on time, but it did not.

In September 2017, E had started attending junior school without the correct EHC plan.

An annual review into this plan took place in November 2017.

It had six weeks to inform Mrs D of any intention to amend it (by December 21).

However, it did not tell her until January 5 – two weeks late.

A meeting was held in May 2018 to discuss E’s EHC plan.

There were a number of reports circulated from professionals to this meeting (speech and language, occupational therapy/physiotherapy, an update from the NHS etc).

The LGO said: “The council was, however, silent after this meeting and no effort was made to revise the EHC as a result.

“This is fault. It caused Mrs D distress as she thought this was a good opportunity for E’s support to be updated before he went to junior school.”

The council should have sent out a final version of E’s EHC plan by March 3, 2018, but instead it issued a further draft on March 13.

It sent the final version a further three months later on June 7 – after Mrs D had already approached the LGO to complain.

A county council spokesperson said: “We acknowledge that in this case the conversion from a Statement of Special Educational Needs to an Education, Health and Care Plan was not handled in the way we would have expected it to be and we have apologised to the family for the fault that was found.

“As a result of the finding – although all our conversions from statements to EHCs have now been completed and there was no evidence in this case that the child missed out on services – we have looked at our procedures and reviewed our electronic processes to ensure that we follow the guidance in relation to future EHC need assessments.

“Our special educational needs and disabilities service is one of our most complex and sensitive areas of work and we’re committed to working with families to secure the best possible future for all our children and young people.

“We’re always looking at ways to improve our services and are currently undertaking a SEND (special education needs and disabilities) review which we’ve invited every parent to take part in to help us plan ahead and continue to improve.”

Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service