LB Hounslow caused “significant injustice” by failing to provide education for special needs child

Image above: Hounslow House

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman have ruled LB Hounslow caused a “significant injustice” by failing to provide alternative education for a child with longstanding mental health issues, for approximately eight months.

The complaint, which was raised by the mother of the child and who is referred to only as “Miss B”, claimed the local council failed to provide alternative education from February 2020 when the child was unable to attend school for medical reasons.

Miss B accused the council of failing to provide sufficient support in school from September 2019, failing to start an assessment of their special educational needs at an earlier point, and delayed in considering in her complaint.

The complainant said this had caused her “significant upset” and distress to her child, referred to as “Child C”, and to the family as a whole. She said family members have had to take unpaid leave to try to educate the child themselves.

While the ombudsman recognised the complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, they still considered this fault could have been avoided by the council. The Council has agreed to pay compensation, and had since “taken action to improve its procedures”.

Child was without regular education for two years

Miss B’s child has longstanding and complex needs including autism, demand avoidance, anxiety and depression. She had been in contact with the mental health service (CAMHS) and C was on the waiting list for treatment. In September 2019, C started secondary school (School Z) and struggled to settle into the new environment. They became increasingly anxious and upset in school and reluctant to attend.

In November 2019 the school tried educating C on their own out of the main classroom setting. Miss B said this approach was working. But when the school tried reintroducing them to the main classroom they struggled again. CAMHS advised that C should be educated out of class and suggested School Z was not the right provision.

C’s problems increased and they struggled to attend School Z after Christmas 2019. In January 2020 CAMHS wanted to arrange a meeting at the school and advised the school to stop the reintegration work for now. The Council said the meeting was held on 28 January 2020 and reintegration was going well. Miss B provided evidence that reintegration was not going well and although C was attending school, they had not attended any lessons in the classroom. By mid-February they were not attending at all.

Over the next few months it became apparent that mainstream schooling was not appropriate for the child. The council agreed C would need an education, health and care (EHC) plan, which is for children and young people aged up to 25 who need more support than is available through special educational needs support.

Delays, school rejections and complaints piled up

CAMHS produced a report on 22 January 2021 confirming that C could not attend School Z and had been medically signed off since February 2020. At a multi-agency meeting at the end of January 2021 CAMHS advocated for a specialist placement. The Council started to consult with alternative schools.

Meanwhile Miss B had complained to the ombudsman claiming C was without education. The complaint was not upheld by the ombudsman because the child remained on the school roll at School Z to access out-of-school provisions. Backing up their decision, the ombudsman cited a number of options offered by School Z which Miss B had declined, and the Council was now providing home tuition.

Various specialist schools declined the child on the basis they weren’t suited to the child’s needs, including one school in November 2020. Child C started to receive home tutoring between March and July 2021, but struggled to manage the sessions and often became distressed. The tutor said limited educational progress was made and it would have been better in a neutral distraction-free space.

Miss B escalated her complaint but the council said it did not receive her request. Miss B’s preferred school offered a visit which had to be postponed due to a Covid-19 outbreak. She chased up her complaint and the Council asked her to resend the email. The Council responded to the complaint in May 2021, accepting that communication with Miss B had been poor. It said the special educational needs team was not aware of C’s problems until February 2020 and C was provided with online education while they were not in school and more recently tuition had been provided.

Miss B complained again to the ombudsman. In July 2021 the Council issued a final EHC plan naming the specialist school for September 2021.

Ordeal has had a “significant impact” on the child

The ombudsman who reported on the case said:

“The fault caused C injustice. They are a vulnerable child at a key point in their education and to miss eight months of education is likely to have had a significant impact on them. It also caused Miss B significant stress coping with a distressed child at home for such a long period of time with no alternatives offered.

“I have taken into account that C was not living with Miss B from October 2020 until February 2021 which reduced the impact for the period from December 2020 to February 2021. However, there is evidence that Miss B was still involved in trying to secure education for C during this latter period.

“The Council has argued I cannot make a causal link between the lack of provision on the Council’s part and the impact on C’s education or Miss B’s health. It is my role to consider on the balance of probabilities whether fault by the Council has caused injustice to C and Miss B. I maintain that being out of education altogether for eight months is likely to have had a significant impact on C and caused Miss B significant stress.”

LB Hounslow ‘is committed to ensuring every child receives an appropriate education’

A Hounslow Council Spokesperson said:

“The Council has complied with the decision in this matter and is pleased that the Ombudsman recognised the steps taken to improve relevant processes. The Council is committed to ensuring that every child in the borough – who is unable to attend school by reason of illness, exclusion or otherwise – receives an appropriate education.”

The Council agreed to pay Miss B and C a total of £2000 and explained that it has changed its procedures in two areas:

  • Families are advised not to wait for individual school assessments and to parallel plan, considering if other schools are able to offer assessments more quickly.
  • It has changed the admission process for the out-of-school provision to ensure the Council is involved at the start and end of the placement.

The ombudsman has welcomed these changes.

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