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Teenager went without education for 16 months due to council’s failings

PUBLISHED: 17:34 14 February 2020 | UPDATED: 17:34 14 February 2020

Norfolk County Council's headquarters at County Hall in Norwich. Pic: Neil Perry.

Norfolk County Council's headquarters at County Hall in Norwich. Pic: Neil Perry.

Archant

A teenager with autism and severe learning difficulties went without suitable education for more than a year after they were excluded from school, a watchdog has found.

And Norfolk County Council has been told to pay almost £5,000 compensation to the 17-year-old, after an ombudsman found it was at fault over the handling of the teenager's case and had effectively condoned a school's unlawful actions.

The teenager, known as P in the report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, had been issued with an education, health and care plan (EHCP) in November 2017 - a legal document describing their needs and outlining how they will be met.

But, in May 2018, P, a looked after child who lives in a home for adults with learning disabilities, was excluded by their school because of their behaviour and it was the council's responsibility to ensure they were educated.

However, the ombudsman has upheld a complaint by an advocate for P over the issue.

The ombudsman said: "The council condoned an informal permanent exclusion as, in reality, P was not allowed to return to the school while it searched for an alternative provision. That was fault."

The watchdog said that, while the school provided some work for P to carry out at the home he lived in, that did not meet their long-term needs as outlined in their care plan.

The ombudsman acknowledged the council had difficulty finding suitable provision, but that they had gone 16 months without provision, which was a fault by the council.

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The council was told to pay £4,800 to the teenager because they did not get education and special needs provision in line with their plan and for failing to issue an up to date plan.

A spokesman for the council said it had doubled the size of its EHCP team, and was proposing a further investment of £2 million.

They went on: "In the autumn term of 2018 the monthly average referral rate for EHCP assessments was 60 per month but during the autumn term of 2019 that average increased to 109 per month.

"We are working to understand why this is happening and how we improve our performance; with the same teams working to increase new assessment timescales also dealing with over 5,000 annual review cases per year.

"EHCPs are for those children with the greatest need and children do not need a plan to receive support.

"We are working closely with headteachers and specialist teachers to strengthen the advice and support we offer schools around special educational needs and disabilities.

"Our work with schools to reduce exclusions is paying off, with permanent exclusions continuing to reduce.

"In addition, we're investing £120m in creating more specialist placements for children, building new special schools, extending current schools and building more specialist bases at mainstream schools.

"We are sorry that P did not get the support needed and fully accept the Ombudsman's findings. We have apologised and issued an up to date EHCP."

The council was previously criticised by the ombudsman because of the high number of complaints relating to care plans for children with special educational needs.


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