A Devon teenager with special educational needs has missed out on nearly a year’s education because the county council did not plan for her to move schools when she finished Year 11, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.
Official guidance says councils must put plans in place before the end of March, when young people with Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plans are transferring from secondary school to a post-16 placement.
In this teenager’s case, who was due to move in September 2019, plans were not finalised until late February of 2020, by which time she had missed so much of the educational year she felt unable to attend.
Devon County Council then asked her mother to repay tax credits that she had been receiving because the teenager had missed school.
‘In this case, a vulnerable teenager has missed out on education and support at a critical time in her life,’ said Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
‘By the time she was offered a placement she felt unable to catch up. This can only have caused the family distress, and indeed the girl’s mum has told me her daughter self-harmed during this period of uncertainty.’
The Ombudsman investigated and concluded that the council failed to identify a placement by the end of March 2019 and failed to plan and take responsibility for ensuring a placement was sourced that met the teenager’s needs.
The council has agreed to apologise and pay the mother and daughter £4,000 to acknowledge the impact of having no education and the avoidable distress and lost opportunities during this period. In addition, it will also pay the mother the equivalent tax credits she lost.
‘I am pleased the council has accepted my recommendations to put things right for the family,’ Mr King said.
‘I hope the audit it has agreed to take of other similar cases will ensure it learns from what has gone wrong and will put in place measures so this situation is not repeated.’
Cllr Andrew Leadbetter, the council’s cabinet member with responsibility for children’s services, said: 'We do our very best to make sure that children and young people can have the best starts in life, with access to good education. But on this occasion, we should have done more to understand her needs and those of her family, and we did not get it right. I apologise sincerely to this young person and her family.
'We are investing in providing more places in our special schools, and developing improved support for children with special educational needs.
'We are reviewing our procedures for post-16 education arrangements for young people with Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) and auditing our handling of all post-16 transition arrangements for young people with EHCPs for the last two years.
'We fully accept and will comply with all of the Ombudsman’s recommendations.'