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(UK) Somerset: Council fined after disabled student out of school 6 mo.s

Mar 27, 2023, Somerset Gazette: Somerset County Council fined over delays in student's care plan

SW England

SOMERSET County Council has been fined £2,000 [$2,847] after a young girl with special needs missed nearly six months of school due to delays in reviewing her care plan.

The girl, known only as Y, missed a substantial amount of mainstream schooling between September 2021 and February 2022 inclusive – during which time Somerset County Council fell short in giving her alternative education.

Her mother – referred to as Mrs X – formally complained about the council’s delays in reviewing her daughter’s education and health care plan (EHCP), which she claims led to Y suffering from anxiety and a decline in her physical health.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) has ordered the council to formally apologise and compensate the family for the distress caused.

The ombudsman exists to investigate allegations of “maladministration” and “service failure” in the public sector – in other words, instances in which it is claimed councils have not fully carried out their legal duties to taxpayers.

Mrs X’s daughter Y had an EHCP from April 2020, which was designed to take account of her “medical and emotional needs” to allow her to have as normal an education as humanly possible.

The plan included Y having “a bespoke timetable with a high level of flexibility” and which allowed for “reasonable adjustments” so she could “access a broad and balanced curriculum”.

Y’s plan was reviewed on March 10, 2021, with her school sending its annual review on March 29 and the council writing to Mrs X to inform her of planned alterations to the EHCP on April 21.

These alterations include means for Y to access her lessons when she was too unwell to attend school (e.g. by audio recording), a weekly one-to-one session with a key adult (overseen by a teacher) and a monthly one-on-one session with a teacher.

The amended plan was not initially circulated until June 28, with Mrs X providing feedback and subsequently chasing up the council for an update – while raising concerns about the standard of education her daughter was receiving....

The ombudsman ruled that there “was fault” in how the council had handled Y’s plan review, stating that her support “would have been improved” by the issues being resolved in a more timely manner.

The ombudsman concluded: “The delays in considering Y’s needs and producing a plan that supported them, and the overall failure to meet her plan provision over the same period, represent fault that caused Y an injustice.

“Y is likely to have suffered anxiety and more isolation from not being well enough to attend school, that may have been limited had the situation been dealt with sooner.

“Y was without suitable education for much of the period between September 2021 and February 2022 because she was largely unable to attend school and suitable alternatives were not found to maintain her education.”... A council spokesman said: “We accept the ruling and have apologised to the family for the distress caused by not meeting nationally agreed time-scales.

“We are working hard to make improvements so that we meet the time-scales we have agreed, more of the time....


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