Council on 'improvement journey' after disabled education failure

John Fisher, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services. Pic: Norfolk County Coun

John Fisher, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

Norfolk County Council has accepted causing distress to a mother after failing to provide her disabled son with suitable education. 

In a complaint to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, "Mrs X" accused the council of a series of failures, including not providing education and therapies identified in an education, health and care plan (EHCP) - a legal document that sets out a child's needs. 

In a 2018 EHCP review, Mrs X said her son, who is autistic and has special educational needs, was not receiving the support he required at school and asked the council to look at alternative arrangements.

The ombudsman said: "Mrs X asked the council to consult with an independent school.

"She also asked the council several times to update her about whether the council intended to amend Child D’s EHCP and what progress was being made to reinstate Child D’s additional therapies as he was no longer receiving these at [his current school]."

County Hall in Norwich

A High Court challenge over changes made to disability support cost Norfolk County Council more than £120,000 - it can be revealed. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

The council failed to consult the school for several months and did not update the EHCP in time.

Before going to the ombudsman, Mrs X went through the council's complaints process, which found faults in the handling of the case.

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Initially, they offered her £300, acknowledging the trouble caused, but, Mrs X was not satisfied and appealed, where they offered an additional £300 and alternative therapies.

The ombudsman has now ordered the council to pay Mrs X £900 to "remedy the injustice", reimburse £600 for avoidable legal costs and provide alternative therapy.

Cllr John Fisher, cabinet member for children’s services, said the council accepted the findings, and its investigation found "we could have done better".

Mr Fisher also accepted amendments to the EHCP should have made earlier but said Child D is now in a suitable full-time school place.

“We continue to be committed to improving our services and ensuring EHCPs are assessed and reviewed on time," he said.

“Like other local authorities across the country, we have found it difficult to keep up with increasing demand.

"However, since 2019 when these issues arose, we have increased capacity in our specialist teams and this is starting to make a real difference to children and their families."

Mr Fisher added the council is on an "improvement journey" with a plan approved by the department of health and the care quality commission as part of a response to an inspection last year.