Watchdog upholds mother's complaint about handling of son's special education needs

Endeavour House in Ipswich

Suffolk County Council's Endeavour House headquarters in Ipswich - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Education bosses have been told to compensate a Suffolk mother for the "distress and inconvenience" caused by the handling of her college student son's special education needs.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman upheld the woman's complaint about the way Suffolk County Council managed the plan for her son – who has profound learning difficulties.

The council had decided, a few days before term in early September 2019, to reduce his bespoke education package from six to five hours per day, from three to two days per week, and from 36 to 30 weeks per year, while financial support for education expenses was also to be withdrawn.

His college had recommended another one-year bespoke programme to begin that term, following an annual review of his Education Health and Care (EHC) plan four months earlier, and had submitted a high needs funding request to the council for a package of education across two days per week at the end of August.

The student's mother complained to the council about the changes to support, and that it had yet to finalise the EHC plan, leaving her no right of appeal.

When the council said it had yet to receive a copy of the paperwork from the June review, she escalated that complaint, leading to an apology, an offer of £400 to remedy the delay, and an agreement to reinstate financial support for expenses that December.

After the final EHC plan was issued last February, the mother appealed to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal, resulting in the council being ordered to fund the package in its original form and provide social care support to make the provision up to five days per week.

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The ombudsman ruled that the family should never have found themselves in a situation where support was abruptly removed.

It said the council was at fault for making a decision to change the level of support before it had received the review paperwork and without formally amending the EHC plan. 

A series of recommendations included that the council should apologise for the faults and pay a total of £1,950 for the distress and inconvenience, time and trouble, and the additional care and support the mother provided until additional social care provision was in place.