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Council directed to pay more than £2000 to parent by Ombudsman in Hertfordshire

Hertfordshire County Council has been directed to pay more than £2000 to a parent of a boy with special educational needs (SEND) –  after leaving the child without ‘proper educational provision’.

The move has emerged following the publication of an investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO), which highlighted delays and fault by the council as it processed the child’s Education Health and Care Plan.

According to the Ombudsman’s report, it found the council took too long to complete a consultation of schools and to consider an EOTAS package.

It also found the council had failed to follow the process to amend the child’s EHCP without a review – and that the boy was ‘without proper educational provision in accordance with his EHC Plan’.

According to the Ombusman’s report, the boy, aged four, started at a mainstream primary school in September 2022  – a month after the council had agreed to assess him for an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

But within weeks the boy was withdrawn from the school where the parent said there had been a ‘safeguarding incident’. The report says that according to the boy’s mother, the school had then confirmed it could not meet her child’s needs.

An EHCP was issued for the child in November – but it did not name a school.

The parent’s pleas for the council to ‘name’ a specialist private nursery school on the boy’s EHCP were turned down – with the council later stating it was not registered as ‘an educational setting’.

At the end of April – two months after the child had turned five – the council’s funding panel agreed that the child needed a special school place. As part of the ongoing process, the parent also asked the council to consider ‘Education Otherwise than at School (EOTAS) for the child.

At the end of June 2023 an amended EHCP was issued that named a mainstream school for the boy – the SAME school that he had been withdrawn from the previous September.

The parent complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman that the council had refused to name her preferred setting on the EHCP and that it had taken too long to take the matter to panel.

She said that her child had lost a year of education and that she had not been able to work as a result.

At the end of June she also appealed the EHCP on the grounds that she did not agree with the school named or the provision set out in the plan.

Following an investigation, the office of the LGSCO has found that the council has been at fault.

According to the report – which has just been published – the council has already acknowledged that it was wrong when it failed to name a primary school on the initial EHCP that it issued in November 2022.

It has also acknowledged that it should have handled the consultation with schools better – and that it did not provide a suitable education to the child while he was not in school.

According to the report the council had already offered to pay the parent £2,300 in recognition of the impact on the child and the time and trouble the parent was put to when the council failed to communicate properly with her.

But the Ombudsman’s report suggests this is increased to £2,800, which the council is reported to have agreed to. It found the council took too long to complete a consultation of schools and to consider an EOTAS package.

It also found the council failed to follow the process to amend the child’s EHCP without a review – and that the boy was ‘ without proper educational provision in accordance with his EHC Plan’.

The LGSCO’s investigation was limited to the period ending in June 2023, because legally the Ombudsman cannot investigate any matter that is part of, was connected to or could have been part of an appeal to a tribunal.

Following the publication of the Ombudsman’s report, a spokesperson for Hertfordshire County Council said they apologised to the family.

He pointed to the increased number of children with EHCPs and the investment the council was making in SEND school places and services.

“We would like to apologise to the family involved in this case,” said the spokesperson.

“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.

“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.

“There are more than 36,500 children and young people identified in Hertfordshire schools as having SEND.

“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 223% 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 £7million investment into statutory SEND services and creating 1,000 new SEND school places between 2018 and 2026.”

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