A BOY with special educational needs missed more than a year of full-time education due to errors made by BCP Council, a report has ruled.

The local authority has been told to pay a total of £8,000 compensation to the boy and his mother.

BCP Council declined to respond to questions from the Daily Echo following the publication of a report by the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman.

The ombudsman found BCP Council caused the child, who was referred to as Child B in the report, and his mother, referred to as Ms X, “avoidable distress” by failing to secure a suitable special school place for him.

The report published by the ombudsman said: “Child B has been without full time suitable education to his needs between November 2018 to March 2020. That equates to one month of schooling in December 2018, nine months of schooling in 2019 and three months of schooling for 2020. I am working on the basis that most schools provide 38 weeks per year of education.

“So, approximately Child B has missed thirteen months of suitable full-time education.

“This has also meant that Ms X has suffered from avoidable distress and frustration and additional costs and responsibilities in caring for Child B at home when he should have been at school.”

The council agreed to the actions set out by the ombudsman.

This included apologising to the mother and paying her £1,500 for the avoidable distress, time and trouble and additional caring responsibilities and educational costs while Child B was at home.

It also set out monthly £500 payments for 13 months to recognise the child’s lost education. This money will be paid to Ms X, who will discuss how to spend it for her son’s benefit with School C and her special educational needs (SEN) case worker.

What led to boy missing out on education?

Child B, who has autistic spectrum disorder, changeable mood and restrictive and repetitive practices, started at a mainstream school, School Y, in June 2018 aged nine. His mother said he was placed almost immediately on a reduced timetable. The school requested an assessment of his possible SEN.

In November 2018, it was agreed that Child B could not manage at School Y. Ms X sai he only attended one hour per day, two or three times per week.

The boy's final Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan, dated November 30, 2018, stated that he required a special school but a school was not named.The mother said the council told her it would find one soon.

Ms X gave her preference for a special school, School C. However, it was not until December 2020, after Ms X appealed the July 2020 amended final EHC Plan, that BCP Council finally agreed to name School C as Child B’s placement.

The local authority consulted School C in November 2018 and in January 2020. On both occasions, School C declined to admit Child B.

Evidence presented to the ombudsman with other special schools between November 2018 and August 2020. All schools said they were unable to provide for Child B’s SEN or Ms X considered they were not suitable, but she was willing to explore options, th eombusdman's report says.

BCP Council said it offered to place Child B at a school in November 2018 and it could have directed that it took Child B, but it did not. Ms X said the local authority did not offer a place.

The council initially said that it could not direct School C or another special school, in which Ms X expressed an interest, because they did not appear on a list approved by the education secretary. BCP Council now says it could have directed the school to admit the boy However, the council has now confirmed it could have directed School C to admit Child B.

There was an annual review of Child B’s EHC Plan in November 2019. The minutes record that School C had been consulted but it had not provided reasons why it would not admit Child B.

The council issued a draft EHC Plan in December 2019 after the annual review and it said a final amended EHC Plan was issued in March 2020 and Ms X was told of her right of appeal at this point.

The council accepted there was ‘an exceptional delay’ in sourcing appropriate educational provision and apologised for this. It said it had sinceprovided additional resources to the SEN team.

The mother said the council kept making promises to her that it would place Child B at a special school. In particular, in June and September 2019, she was told this by officers. Ms X also considers that the council failed to tell her why the schools were refusing to admit Child B, particularly in relation to School C.

In the Council’s July 2020 stage two complaint response, it explained to Ms X the reasons why School C had been unwilling to admit Child B.

BCP Council said it had challenged School C’s decision not to admit but without success. The council told Ms X that, as part of its sufficiency planning, it had now increased its provision of local specialist providers.

In July 2020, the Council told Ms X that it had identified a placement for Child B, a specialist resource within a school. It told her that this would be the named placement. On July 21, 2020, the Council named this placement in Child B’s final amended EHC Plan. Ms X appealed this EHC Plan.

The boy's mother said the council failed to tell her of its powers to direct a school to admit Child B. She only found out of this power when she sought legal advice and obtained legal aid to pursue a SEND Tribunal hearing.

Ms X secured him a place at the school this year after appealing to a tribunal.

In September 2019, the council arranged for the boy to receive education from its interim education provider, Provider Z.

The mother said Provider Z did not provide any formal learning to Child B and he spent most of his time going for walks in the community. Ms X said staff kept changing and this was distressing for Child B.

BCP Council recognised in its July 2020 stage two complaint response that Child B required a "set regime, clear structure and expectation" annd by implication Provider Z could not provide this.

Ombudsman's findings on two complaints

1) Ms X considers that, given School C has now accepted Child B, it might have been possible for the Council to have placed him there sooner.

  • "There was a clear delay in placing Child B at a special school, be it at Ms X’s preferred school or not. The council did have the power to direct a special school, and School C, to admit Child B if it considered that school would be suitable.
    "I recognise councils may be reluctant to do this. But this is an option which I consider the council should have considered, but there is no evidence that it did. That is fault."
  • "I also consider that the Council should have enquired about the reasons School C refused to admit Child B.
    "Had it done so, the Council would have had an opportunity to challenge the refusal of a place at this point, although I could not say what the outcome would have been."
  • "The council did make promises to Ms X that it would find a special school, promises which it could not keep. That was misleading and amounts to fault.
    "Had such promises not be made, it is likely Ms X would have appealed the November 2018 EHC Plan because the council had failed to name a special school."
  • "There was also a slight delay in issuing an amended final EHC Plan after the annual review of November 2019.
    "The council issued a draft EHC Plan in December 2019. It then had eight weeks to issue the final EHC Plan
    "So, this should have been issued approximately by the end of February 2020 rather than in March 2020."

2) Ms X has said that Provider Z, the local authority's interim education provider arranged for the boy in September 2019, did not provide any formal education to Child B.

  • On the basis of what I have read, the Council has accepted that. I recognise that Provider Z provided Child B with some activities. But Child B required a structured educational programme, now provided at School C.

Actions council has agreed to

Within two months of the date of the final statement, BCP Council will:

  • Apologise to Ms X and make a payment of £1,500 to recognise her avoidable distress, time and trouble and additional caring responsibilities and educational costs while Child B was at home.
  • To recognize Child B’s 13 months of lost education, the council will pay £500 per month (because there was some limited provision) which equates to £6,500.
    This payment should be used for Child B’s educational benefit in a way which Ms X and School C consider appropriate.
    The monies should be paid to Ms X and she will discuss how best to spend this for Child B’s benefit with School C and her SEN case worker.

Procedural imrpveometns ordered

  • BCP Council will ensure its SEN staff do not make promises to parents/carers of finding a special school which cannot be met and will ensure its SEN staff are aware that it has the power to direct certain suitable school to admit pupils to prevent them being out of school for longer than necessary.
    If this school is then named in a pupil’s final EHC Plan, parents/carers would have the right of appeal to the SEND Tribunal.
    SEND Tribunals are best placed to decide what is a suitable school where parents and councils disagree.
  • The local authority plans to impart the above powers to its SEN staff during the autumn term 2021.
    The council has also said that it has increased its supply of specialist local resources to cater for the demand for specialist placements.

Council response to media questions

The Daily Echo requested a statement from BCP Council on the findings/ruling of the ombudsman, the council's faults that have been identified within the report and a response to the “avoidable distress” caused to this parent and child.

In reply, a BCP Council spokeswoman said: "On this occasion, BCP Council does not wish to comment further." 

Children's services issues

As reported by the Daily Echo, BCP Council's children's services and SEND provision have been criticised by inspectors and watchdogs.

In the summer, BCP Council and Dorset CCG were ordered to make urgent improvements by Ofsted over the support provided to children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

A council response to these concerns is due to be signed off and sent to the government department soon. It has been warned intervention by Ofsted is possible if the proposed actions in the reply are not adequate.

The issues relating to SEND support were raised less than a year after Ofsted slammed BCP Council's children's services after it ruled the local authority was putting vulnerable youngsters at risk.

In January 2021, the local authority detailed a 15-point action plan to improve the lives of children, while two months ago council leader Drew Mellor pledged to invest in children’s services, although he attributed much of the authority's £7m overspend to the department.