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(UK) Derbyshire: Council fined for failing special needs students; "this is a national issue"

Dec 26, 2023, Derbyshire Telegraph: Derbyshire County Council pays out more than £100,000 [$127K] over special educational needs failures

E. Midlands

The local authority says the issue of support for children with special educational needs is a national problem

A Derbyshire council has paid more than £100,000 [$127K] to families of children with special educational needs it has failed to support. Derbyshire County Council (DCC) has paid £95,000 [$121K] to families who have made a total of 380 formal complaints to the authority over support – or lack of – provided to their children with special educational needs.

Alongside this, the council has also been told to pay out more than £17,000 [$22K] to 10 families, between June and October, who took their complaints to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman – and won. These cases document repeated cases of “significant distress”, “failures” and “injustice” experienced by Derbyshire families.

This follows a further £26,000 ]$33K] it paid out to three families in August, also over failures to provide sufficient support to children with special educational needs. A county council spokesperson said there had been a “significant” increase in the number of requests for EHCPs, but did not quantify this.

The spokesperson says the authority is “extremely sorry” for any children, families and schools affected by its failings. Meanwhile, Dan Careless, the council’s strategic lead for schools and learning, said assessment officers are handling up to 140 cases each for children who require high levels of support and the annual review team is handling more than 200 cases each.

He said 50 more officers would be needed to be able to respond to parents whenever they have a query and the authority is “unable” to meet that sort of demand. As it stands, 60 per cent of education, health and care plans (EHCPs), are completed on time, though none are said to take longer than 32 weeks, Mr Careless detailed.

This is expected to rise with the changes the council is making and has made to support systems, it says. The national average is said to be 46 per cent and Mr Careless finds the timeframe “challenging” with the processes taking a lot of time to complete

He said the council has set up a tribunal mediation panel and recruited two SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) lawyers to provide training and advice to staff to help lower the number of tribunals – over complaints of failed support. This, he says, has helped reduce the number of EHCP tribunals from 160 to 80 over the past 12 months to October 2023.

These tribunals come at significant cost to taxpayers and especially the parents who feel forced to fight them, with sizable amounts of money needed to pay for expert assessments to back up their claims for sufficient support – along with other time and resource implications.

Among the complaints upheld by council watchdog the local government ombudsman is £1,407 paid to a family after it took 11 months to issue an EHCP to a family – taking from November 2022 to October 2023 – causing “significant distress” and the child to miss out on their chosen school.

A further case saw the council pay £1,800 after it took nine months to issue an EHCP to a family – taking from September 2022 to June 2023 – which led to a child missing out on a term and a half of school. In a third case, the council paid £3,500 and may pay up to a further £2,880 – a combined £6,380 – after a Derbyshire child was without the required educational support for eight months, from October 2022 to May 2023.

The second batch of payments is for the council to pay the family £120 for every week of education the child missed from May 2023 up until suitable support is provided, up to a maximum of six months’ worth. A fourth case saw the council pay £1,500 to a family after a child was left out of school from October to early December despite advance warnings of the need for support from his then-school and parents as far back as July.

A further case saw the council pay £3,750 to a family after it failed to provide sufficient support to a child from May 2021 through to June 2023 – more than two years. The council had initially offered to pay £100 per month for the support it failed to provide between May 2021 and April 2022, with the watchdog increasing this to £200 per month, with other payments given for causing “significant distress” and ongoing delays.

A county council spokesperson said: “Derbyshire has had a significant increase in the number of requests for EHCPs and for the assessments and advice that go along with these. This is a national issue and other local authorities are facing similar increases in demand. As a result of this, our performance in completing some ECHPs within the 20-week deadline has been impacted and has led to delays in completing some of them on time.

“We are extremely sorry for any children, families and schools who are being negatively affected and we are working extremely hard to improve our performance.


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