Suffolk pays nearly £5,000 after autistic teenager was moved from school

Gordon Jones apologised on behalf of Suffolk County Council. Picture: WARREN PAGE, PAGEPIX LTD

Gordon Jones apologised on behalf of Suffolk County Council. Picture: WARREN PAGE, PAGEPIX LTD - Credit: WARREN PAGE, PAGEPIX LTD

Suffolk County Council has been ordered to pay nearly £5,000 to the family of an autistic teenager after a series of blunders caused them 14 months of anguish over her education.

She was moved from her residential special school midway through her studies because of poor planning by the council, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

The teenager had been attending the out-of-county independent school for five years when the council moved her in July 2016.

The council had intended to educate the girl at a local mainstream school following her move, but could not put in place the correct level of support as it was unaware of the provision available in the area. She was left without full-time education for five months – until another independent special school was found for her.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found significant faults with the council’s handling of the situation. It took 14 months to issue the teenager’s Education, Health and Care Plan, which had initially been issued without any assessment of her social care needs.

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Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King, said: “It had taken a long time for this girl – who has significant needs – to settle at her school, and yet Suffolk County Council moved this girl despite the evidence supplied by the school and her educational psychologist.

“A lack of resources should never be the primary factor in deciding the best provision for a child with educational needs. This has been compounded by the council’s poor planning throughout the 14 months, and its admission it was unaware of the provision it had within its own boundaries.

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“We welcome the steps the council has already taken to improve its services to children with special educational needs and hope this report, along with others from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission, will help inform the changes the council needs to make to ensure other children are not affected in the same way.”

The council has agreed to apologise to the mother and daughter and it will also pay the daughter £1,200 for the loss of one term of education, and a further £1,000 for the 14 months of uncertainty and distress she was faced with while the council was trying to find a suitable alternative placement.

It will pay the mother £1,000 for the disruption to her working arrangements caused by her daughter’s unplanned return from residential school and a further £500 for the time and trouble she spent pursuing the complaint.

The council has also agreed to pay the family £1,000 for the 14 months of uncertainty caused by its actions.

Gordon Jones, Suffolk’s Cabinet Member for children’s services said: “I would first and foremost like to apologise to the family and the young person affected by this situation.

“The time taken to try and place this young person in alternative education was simply too long and it was wrong for the authority to withdraw her from her former out of county school without having a suitable place ready and waiting for her at another school in Suffolk.

“The council completely accepts the findings and judgement of the Local Government Ombudsman in this matter.

“This case took place in July 2016, prior to the SEND(Special Educational Need and Disability) service inspection at the end of 2016. It predates many of the positive changes made since to improve the support we provide to children and young people with SEND.

“We are pleased that the Local Government Ombudsman recognises the council has conducted a thorough review of its processes to support young people with EHC Plans whose placements were moved from out-of-county to in-county before their Plans were issued.

“We are certainly not complacent and accept there is more work to do. I am optimistic that Suffolk is in a much stronger position now to support young people with SEND requirements as we continue to work closely with families, pupils and our partners in health to develop the offer further.”

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