Council fined £5,000 for ‘loss of education’ by watchdog after string of failures caused autistic boy ‘significant injustice’

Picture of a pupil studying. Picture: Chris Radburn/PA

Picture of a pupil studying. Picture: Chris Radburn/PA - Credit: PA

A family will receive £5,000 from Norfolk County Council in 'lost opportunities for education' after a string of failures caused their autistic son 'significant injustice', a watchdog says.

Catherine Grummitt. Picture: Catherine Grummitt

Catherine Grummitt. Picture: Catherine Grummitt - Credit: Archant

The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has ordered the council to pay another £500 in 'avoidable distress' and £1,500 to reimburse the family's costs after a catalogue of errors saw a teenage boy from Norwich, now 18, left without education for months.

His mother Catherine Grummitt said their struggle will be familiar to hundreds of families with autism diagnoses and called for more to be done to stop vulnerable children falling through the cracks.

The inspector from the LGO, which investigates complaints from the public about councils, highlighted a series of failings by the council, which it said:

• Did not update policy on children unable to attend school because of health needs until April 2016, despite guidance being issued three years earlier

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• 'Took no action' in September 2012 when it was told the boy was not attending school and had difficulties

• Gave no 'proper thought' to whether provision given by a specialist school was suitable

Tuesday marks National Offer Day for children starting reception in September. Picture: Dave Thompso

Tuesday marks National Offer Day for children starting reception in September. Picture: Dave Thompson/PA Wire - Credit: PA

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• Left the child without education for 'prolonged periods'

The issues date back to 2010, when Mrs Grummitt's son, then 13, moved to a mainstream high school. By November 2011, he was unable to cope with schooling and left - this was the last time he received full-time education.

Over the following years, Mrs Grummitt battled to secure a statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN), a place at a specialist school and greater support from the council.

One issue was the delay in completing an Education, Health and Care (EHCP) plan, the updated SEN statement, which the council admitted took roughly 41 weeks - from February 2015 to January last year.

She said: 'We are talking about a child who, when he started high school, was getting the bus to school and winning a science competition.

MORE: Parents battle to secure support for Norfolk children with special educational needs'He is a bright, intelligent boy - he built his computer. But he has become one who now can't function.'

The LGO said the failings had caused 'significant injustice' to the child and advised the council, which estimated the boy had lost nine-and-a-half-months in schooling, to 'look carefully' at its arrangements for children missing from education because of health difficulties.

Mrs Grummitt said her son, who suffers from severe anxiety, had become increasingly withdrawn over the last few years, and a recent trip to the doctors had been the first time he'd left the house in a year.

'More careful and planned interventions' by the council may have improved her son's outcomes, the report said.

'Children are being failed and excluded and the school environment is to blame,' Mrs Grummitt said. 'Transition is known as a very difficult time and there are many families in this position.

'The sum of money is immaterial, but it is good that it is now all out there.'

She urged parents to seek early help for their children.

A spokesperson from Norfolk County Council said: 'Although we can't comment on the specific details of this case, for confidentiality reasons, and although the council believes it tried very hard to engage with the family, we do accept that we could have done better at times during what has been a long and complex case.

'We therefore accept the final decision of the ombudsman and will be formally apologising to the family.'

They said the council was also implementing the Ombudsman's recommendation to review arrangements for ensuring schools inform the council when a pupil is not attending because of health difficulties, 'in order to help minimise the chance of this situation happening again in the future'.

A detailed education plan created by the SEND tribunal, which has a long-term goal of securing a specialist residential placement for the teenager, is also now binding on the council.

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