Barnet Council has been ordered to compensate and apologise to a mother following the “loss of education” her child experienced when it “failed” to find a suitable school placement.
A report from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman states the council had a “service failure” in the case of Mrs C’s child – referred to anonymously as X – who has special needs. It was ordered to pay her £2,200 as a result.
The report stated the council had a “duty” to ensure enough school placements were available to all children of compulsory school age in, or around, the area. As well as the loss of education, the ombudsman found there was “fault” with the alternative offer provided.
In response a Barnet Council spokesperson said the council valued the feedback and was “learning” from the complaint and would “use it to improve our services”.
They said: “The council will do what it can to support all local children with special educational needs, including those who are moving into our local area.
“Regretfully on this occasion, we were unable to offer a suitable placement as quickly as we would have liked.”
Mrs C and her child moved to the borough in August 2022 and the council received X’s education, health and care plan (EHCP), issued by the previous local authority, in September.
The report said the council delayed starting the consultation process for a six-week period from September 2022 and stated they should have started this process after it received X’s EHCP from the child’s previous local authority.
However the council did not consult with any schools until the end of October that year.
Mrs C presented a school as her first choice, although they could only offer X a place in 2023/24. Mrs C asked the council to accept this before the deadline of March 2023, which the council acknowledged but said it would consult further.
Close to the deadline the council contacted the school to accept the offer but the school had by then run out of places.
In June 2023 another school was found for X for the 2023/24 academic year and Mrs C accepted the offer.
The ombudsman acknowledged that although there were no “set timescales” for how long it took to find placements, and the family moved to the area “just before the academic year started” the council should have kept their “local offer under review”.
The watchdog said a placement should have been found by January 2023. Instead the council provided one-to-one tuition for over 15 hours per week as alternative provision, which they said was equivalent to full-time education.
The report said the majority of X’s special education needs were provided for by this tutor, but the child did not have “any opportunities to engage or receive education with peers” as was set out in his EHCP.
Following the ombudsman’s finding of fault against the council, it agreed to pay Mrs C a total of £2,200 to compensate for the loss of education, distress and uncertainty, and lack opportunity for X to engage with peers.
The council spokesperson added: “We have worked hard over the last two years to significantly increase the number of special education school places, including the opening of a new special education school [Windmill] in September 2023 and a new additionally resourced provision to respond to increases and surges in demand.”