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Two boys with special needs who waited months for 'vital support' are among 11 children 'failed' by council

PUBLISHED: 06:30 16 January 2019 | UPDATED: 15:23 16 January 2019

Two boys with special educational needs who spent months out of full-time education were failed by Norfolk County Council, an ombudsman has ruled. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Two boys with special educational needs who spent months out of full-time education were failed by Norfolk County Council, an ombudsman has ruled. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Two boys with special educational needs missed out on a total of two and a half years of education while waiting for "vital support" from the local authority, a new report reveals.

The local government and social care ombudsman said the boys were failed by Norfolk County Council, which also kept them waiting a combined total of 16 months for education, health and care plans (EHCPs) which would help them return to school.

They were among 11 cases upheld by the ombudsman against the council in relation to its provision for children with special educational needs in the past two years.

Last month this newspaper reported on the brewing crisis in special educational needs provision in Norfolk.

Families spoke of the “battles” they had faced with the local authority to secure the support they needed for their children.

The county council said it had been struck by an unprecedented rise in the number of children needing EHCPs – which increased by around 50pc between 2017 and 2018.

The mother of one boy complained to the ombudsman that she received “very little support” in the nearly two years her son was out of full-time education, and that she waited 46 weeks for his EHCP – more than twice the government’s target timescale.

In the second case the boy’s EHCP took 26 weeks to produce, and he spent eight months out of education after the council failed to provide suitable provision for him after he was excluded from school.

Michael King, local government and social care ombudsman, said: “In both cases these children were without the vital support and provision they needed at crucial times of their education. I hope the remedies the council has agreed will go some way to repairing the damage done.

“We welcome the proactive steps the council is now taking to improve its provision and oversight of services for children with SEN, and hope this will ensure children will get the support they need in future.”

In the first case Norfolk County Council agreed to pay the family £4,250 to acknowledge the EHCP delay and for the ombudsman’s involvement.

In the second case the council will apologise to the family and pay them £3,500 “to recognise the injustice” caused by its actions. It will pay a further £400 to the boy’s mother for the cost of commissioning her own dyslexia report and to provide “technological assistance” specified in the boy’s EHCP, including a laptop.

The report comes as Norfolk County Council announced a £1.5m investment to double the size of its specialist education team and speed up assessments for EHCPs – a service for which it is currently ranked second worst in the country, according to Department for Education data.

In 2017 just 7.3pc of the 615 EHCPs issued in Norfolk were completed in the government’s target timescale of 20 weeks. In Suffolk the figure was 47.2pc and in Essex it was 73.6pc.

A spokesman for Norfolk County Council, said: “We want all children to get access to the very best education and we are very sorry that there were delays for both of these children and their families. Both children are now in full-time places and doing well at school.

“It is encouraging that the ombudsman has welcomed the proactive steps we’ve taken to improve provision and oversight of services for children with SEN since these complaints were raised.

“This includes £120m to create more special school places and specialist places in mainstream schools, £1.5m of investment that we’ve just announced to double our specialist teams and additional outreach to help schools to support their children.

“We fully accept the ombudsman’s findings and have already complied with all of recommendations from both reports. Like many authorities we have faced unprecedented increasing demand for EHCPs, with requests more than doubling over three years but we have clear plans in place to address this.”

Analysis: by Bethany Whymark

Considering the stories I have already heard from parents about the difficulties they have had securing appropriate support for their children, the ombudsman’s finding are sadly less surprising than they should be.

Despite promises that education for children with special needs and disabilities is a priority, and the £120m investment coming to those services in Norfolk in the coming years, the county council is still struggling to address its shortcomings in the short term.

This fresh investment in its team dealing with EHCPs will hopefully ease the pressure and provide some relief for the dozens of families who seek plans for their children every month.

But the authority has a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the country.

And they should want to get better for the families who need their support – many of whom have enough on their plate without coming to blows with the people who are supposed to be helping them.

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