*The image used with this story is not of the boy at the centre of this case.
An Ombudsman investigation about a Sheffield schoolboy left without the right special educational needs (SEN) support for 18 months, has highlighted how councils across the country could improve their practice.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found Sheffield City Council delayed in agreeing, and then putting in place, the SEN support the boy was entitled to. As a result, the boy limited the number of GCSEs he took.
The investigation demonstrates to other authorities the severe impact on children and families when Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans are not produced on time, or transferred from statements of SEN promptly and efficiently.
The case also uncovered a number of other young people in Sheffield had experienced similar delays. The council has agreed to review its procedures to avoid more people being affected.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:
Long delays are an overriding feature of the complaints we investigate about councils providing SEN support. And as this case shows, it can potentially leave children failing to reach their full potential.
All children are entitled to an education that meets their needs and helps them achieve their aspirations — it should not matter whether a child has different needs. But in this case the family had to battle just to get the support the boy was entitled to.
While it’s difficult to make up for the missed support at such a critical point in the boy’s schooling, Sheffield Council has agreed to act to try to put things right for the family. I also call on all councils to reflect on the learning from this case, and consider if it could help inform service improvements in their area.
Councils must complete EHC plans within 20 weeks where they accept a child needs that support. In this case, the Ombudsman found the council was six months late completing the plan. It issued an earlier incorrect version, which added to the delay and required the mother to attend mediation sessions.
Councils are required to put in place the educational support set out in the plan. Because the council did not resolve a disagreement with the boy’s school about funding the support, his educational provision was not put in place for a further 12 months. The lack of clarity in the EHC plan led to differences in opinion in how the support would be provided. The boy decided to reduce the number of GCSEs he studied based on what he thought he could achieve without the right support.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to improve local public, and adult social care, services. In this case, the council has agreed to apologise to the boy and his mother and to review his EHC plan as a matter of urgency.
The council has agreed to pay the mother £1,500 to use for her son’s educational benefit, and £300 to acknowledge the frustration, time, trouble and uncertainty caused.
The council has agreed to review the impact of procedures it has already changed to ensure EHC plans, and annual reviews of those plans, meet the statutory timescales. It will properly monitor whether young people are receiving the support specified in their plans.