Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) has been ordered to pay thousands of pounds to two families whose children missed out on months of education.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman first ordered the council to pay £5,000 to a boy who did not a tutor for more than seven months due to the its failure to organise a replacement.
The boy (known as Child B) who has developmental delay and cognitive impairment, was excluded from his school in October 2021. While we was privately tutored at home for a short time afterwards, this tutoring was withdrawn in May 2022. A new tutor was not found until January 2023.
Despite the boy’s mother sending the council a list of alternative school options, no tutor was found, and she complained to the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman found that the council was “at fault” for failing to find a suitable, replacement tutor for the student, and recommended it pays out £3,000 for this fault, as well as £300 in recognition of the uncertainty caused, £500 to recognise the distress caused and a further £1,200 to recognise the ‘injustice’ caused by missed annual reviews – a total of £5,000.
A spokesman for Hertfordshire County Council told ITV News that the area is facing significant challenges due to the rising demand for SEND education provision.
“In common with many local authorities, we are experiencing an unprecedented increase in requests for specialist provision, with a 47% increase in pupils with Education and Health Care Plans (EHCPs) since 2019, as well as the additional challenges due to Covid-19.
“We are making new investments into the SEND system and are fully committed to making sure that all children with SEND and EHCPs in Hertfordshire receive the support they need and deserve,” they said.
Delays to EHCPs affecting education access
The Ombudsman has also ordered HCC to pay another family £2,300 for delaying the amendment process and finalisation of a pupil’s Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), which caused her (Child C) to miss out on months of education.
In March 2022, Child C’s schools admitted it could not meet her complex needs. In April, a draft amended EHCP was issued, but there were disagreements which delayed the plans approval.
The Council should have issued a final amended EHCP within 12 weeks of the annual review in March 2022, by the end of May. It took until February 2023 – a delay of around 9 months.
The Ombudsman says the Council is “at fault” for this significant delay, leaving Mrs X in limbo and “causing distress and uncertainty”.
As well as the £2,300 (£250 for each month Child C was not attending school), the Council must also apologise to the child’s mother (Mrs X) in writing for the delays in the amendment process and finalisation of the EHCP, and for provision C has missed out on.
The Council has agreed to these recommendations and has carried out actions to remedy this.
Concern that government plans to improve education for children with SEND “do not go far enough”
It is hoped that the government’s plans to build thousands more specialist schools will reduce the number of children with SEND who are missing out on education, but the Local Government Association is concerned that these measures “do not go far enough”.
“It is good the government has set out new national standards which will clarify the support available, and the focus on early intervention will also ensure needs are met more effectively.
“However, while the measures announced will help to fix some of the problems with the current system, they do not go far enough in addressing the fundamental cost and demand issues that result in councils struggling to meet the needs of children with SEND,” said the Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board.
For instance, while increasing specialist school places will prevent demand from outstripping supply, schools will need to have the means to train and recruit specialist teachers before any tangible change is noticed.
One petition, which has been signed by more than 45,000 people, is therefore calling for a reform to the EHCP process, so that children with SEND can access the same quality of education offered by mainstream schools, and so that local authorities and governments are held accountable should they fail to do this.