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Norfolk County Council pays compensation to boy left without school place for a second time

County education chiefs have been told to pay compensation after a family was forced to hire its own tutor to teach a boy with special educational needs.

A report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, published today, said it was the second time the boy, known only as Y, had been left without a school place.

Norfolk County Council has apologised, but says the case reflects the pressure it and other local authorities are facing to meet the increasing need for special educational needs and disability (SEND) support.

Norfolk County Council headquarters (3027764)
Norfolk County Council headquarters (3027764)

The report reveals the family received £3,900 in compensation after an earlier investigation, published in October 2018, found the county council had failed to provide Y with a proper education over an eight month period.

The authority has now been told to pay a further £1,650 after the boy's mother, referred to only as Ms X, informed them in February last year that she was paying for home tutoring.

She said she was doing so after her GP advised that it was probably in Y's interests not to continue attending the school he was assigned a place at following the initial inquiry, because of worsening anxiety.

The report said officials had been aware of concerns about Y's placement at the school, identified as School A, from as long ago as December 2018.

But it was only in September 2019 that Y began to attend an alternative school and the following month when a new Education Health and Care (EHC) plan was issued for him.

As well as paying compensation to Ms X, the council was told it should consider the report's findings at a meeting of the full council, its cabinet or another suitable committee.

The report, which was completed prior to the coronavirus lockdown but which has only been released now, added that the council had agreed to review its decision-making processes relating to SEND provision.

More regular analysis of the system's work will also be provided to councillors.

Ombudsman Michael King said: “I am concerned Norfolk County Council has again failed this boy and not provided him with an education appropriate for his needs, despite being made aware the school he was attending was no longer suitable.

“When we published our last report about the family’s situation, the council made steps to improve its services, but it is clear more could be done to learn from its mistakes.

“I hope that by increasing the level of scrutiny from councillors, a way can be found to ensure other children and their families do not fall through the cracks as has happened in this case.”

The publication of the report also follows increasing concern in recent weeks about the impact of lockdown on youngsters needing additional support.

John Fisher, the county council's cabinet member for children's services, said in a statement: “We want all children in Norfolk to get a good education so we are very sorry that Y has not received this.

“We accept all of the Ombudsman’s recommendations, have apologised to the family and paid compensation. We have issued an up to date EHCP and are confident that Y is getting the right support and education.

“This case reflects the national pressure that all local authorities across the country are experiencing when it comes to meeting the ever increasing demand from families for SEND support for their children.

“Like other local authorities, we have found it difficult to keep up with increasing demand in this area and we are sorry for that.

"But we have pledged to work with our health and education partners – and of course families – to improve services for children with special educational needs in our county and we have an ambitious strategy to address it, which Ofsted inspectors recognised in a recent report.

“We’re already investing £120m in special educational needs and disabilities to create more specialist places and we’re increasing our support to schools, so that they can help their children earlier.

"We’ve also increased capacity in our specialist teams and, as inspectors said, this is starting to make a real difference to children and their families. We are also confident that our future reporting to our People and Communities Select Committee will help to identify service improvements.

“Alongside other councils, and to inform the Government’s review of SEND, we continue to highlight the challenges that we are all facing and to call for a national approach to help resolve it.”

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