Education chiefs in Hertfordshire have been directed to payout more than £10,000, after failing to meet the needs of a child with special educational needs.
The provision needed for the child – who has autism spectrum disorder with a pathological demand avoidance profile – was set out in an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) in August 2020.
The child’s mother complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman that the council had failed to make that provision available. She also complained that reviews of the EHCP since then had been delayed. She suggested that as a result of these failings her daughter’s education had been ‘significantly adversely affected – and that she had also suffered distress.
The investigation by the Ombudsman covered the period from September 2020 to July 2023 – covering a time when the child, now aged 17, was in academic years 10, 11 and 12.
It concluded that for two years the girl had ‘experienced a wholly unacceptable level of support with her education from the council’. It said the council had failed to take the active interest in the girl’s ‘case’ that it should have done.
And, as a result of the findings, the council has agreed to make a ‘symbolic payment’ to the mother of £10,100.
That payment is said to account for a ‘loss of service’ over seven terms, a delay in receiving speech and language therapy, failure of the council to make mentoring provision available for one term and a six-month delay in issuing an amended EHCP, following a 2022 review.
The council has also agreed to make a payment of a further £500 to recognise the distress experienced by the child’s mother. According to the Ombudsman’s report the initial EHCP, from August 2020, was a ‘framework’ to help guide the child’s transition from education at home to a return to an education setting.
The EHCP had included targets for the amount of online tuition, of mentoring and for twice-termly reviews, however the investigation by the Ombudsman found that the council failed to ensure these were met. It also pointed to delays in reviewing the girl’s EHCP throughout the period.
It did acknowledge that the ‘service failings’ in 2022/23 had been less than in the previous years. It suggested that during this time the council had ‘shown a greater level of engagement’ with the girl’s education than in the previous two years.
It acknowledged the child had struggled to re-engage with new tutoring and mentoring service had been made available by the council, but said considerable ‘avoidable uncertainty and frustration’ had resulted from the council’s failure to manage the EHCP review procedure in the time-scales expected and from other service failings.
In response to the Ombudsman’s findings, a spokesperson for Hertfordshire County Council 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 with SEND and EHCPs in Hertfordshire receive the support they need and deserve.”
Meanwhile the council spokesperson also pointed to the growing demand for EHCPs and the steps they are taking to improve the process. “There are more than 36,500 children and young people identified in Hertfordshire schools as having SEND,” said the spokesperson.
“Most children and young people with additional needs do not require an Education, Health and Care plan (EHCP) to access the support they need, as these are for those with the most complex needs, but we have seen a 185 per cent increase in children and young people with EHCPs since 2015.
“We know that we’ve struggled to keep up with that increase and that’s why SEND improvement is a key priority for both the county council and local NHS.
“We understand the issues faced by children, young people and their families in Hertfordshire and have already put in place a strong strategy to address this, including an additional ongoing £5million investment into statutory SEND services and creating 1,000 new SEND school places between 2018 and 2026.”