New figures have revealed that, this year, England’s Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO) has upheld a record number of complaints regarding provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
In total, the LGO partly or fully upheld 380 complaints between the start of 2023 and mid-July, up from 234 complaints in the same period in 2022 – a rise of 60%.
Highest proportion of fault in complaints about Education and Children’s Services
According to an analysis by The Guardian, some children with SEND had been without a school place for over a year, with many of the delays due to a shortage of educational psychologists (EPs), whose assessments are used by councils when drawing up Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPS).
Indeed, in the Review of Local Government Complaints 2022-23, Paul Najsarek, Interim Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said the highest proportion of fault continues to be found in complaints about Education and Children’s Services, with councils often failing to either provide support for children with SEN or to provide EHCPs.
The review also revealed that the Ombudsman received and upheld more complaints about Education and Children’s services than any other service area.
“While we are aware of the challenges authorities face, at the heart of many of these complaints are children and young people going without the support they are entitled to, and we will continue to hold authorities to account for what they are required to provide,” Mr Najsarek said.
Councils who fail to meet legal duties for SEND should face larger penalties
Campaigners are now calling for larger penalties for councils who fail to meet their legal duties.
A spokesperson for campaign group SEND Action told The Guardian: “The huge upsurge in the number of complaints being upheld by the LGO is clear evidence that the SEND crisis is out of control.
“LGO penalties for failing to meet legal duties are tiny compared with meeting the cost of provision and this is unfortunately resulting in abuse of the current system by some local authorities. The resulting accountability vacuum is causing serious injustice for disabled children and young people and their families.
“There has been a conspicuous lack of action by the government (including through new proposals under the SEND and alternative provision plan) to improve accountability and ensure that local authority decision making is aligned with legal responsibilities.”