One Legal Sept 21 Director 600

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Ombudsman criticises council after boy forced to stay in primary school extra year due to delayed EHC Plan

A Derbyshire boy had to stay in primary school for an extra year because the council did not update his Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan on time, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

Derbyshire County Council has agreed to apologise to the boy and his mother and pay them £1,000 after the watchdog founds its failings caused the boy to miss out on being educated with his peer group for a school year.

The boy, who has physical and mental health conditions, had been due to leave primary school in 2019. However, the council did not update his EHC Plan, including naming a school for him to attend in time for his move to secondary school.

Instead, the boy had to stay at his primary school and receive the Year 7 curriculum via one-to-one tutors.

As a result of the one-to-one tutoring, he was able to transfer to a secondary school in September 2020 and begin Year 8 with his peers. The report noted that the council took appropriate steps to ensure he received a suitable education whilst remaining at primary school.

The Ombudsman's investigation found the council failed to name a school in his EHC Plan, despite being instructed to by its own panel meeting. It also took 13 weeks longer than the law allows to issue a decision letter, and 56 weeks instead of the usual eight weeks to issue the boy's final EHC Plan.

According to the investigation, these faults were made worse because they came at a critical time in the boy's education. The Ombudsman found that the final EHC Plans should have been issued by 15 February in the year the boy was due to move on to the next school stage. But the boy's final amended plan was not issued until 21 June, 21 weeks after the deadline.

Derbyshire's handling of the mother's complaint was also criticised by the Ombudsman, having been beset by delays at the first stage. When the council did conduct its own investigation in response to her complaints, it failed to identify the full extent of where it had gone wrong, the Ombudsman found.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said it is "vitally important councils get things right when dealing with children's Education, Health and Care Plans, particularly at crucial transitional times in their school life".

He added: "Although the boy did not miss out on any education because of the council's errors, he did miss out on vital social interaction with children his own age, which will have had a knock-on effect on entering his new school in Year 8, where children will have already formed friendship groups.

"I'm pleased the council has accepted my recommendations, and hope the learning from this case will be used to improve its services for other children with Education, Health and Care Plans."

In response to the investigation, Derbyshire has agreed to apologise to the mother and pay £1,000 for the distress caused.

The council has also agreed to a review of its processes to ensure it is carrying out annual reviews, issuing decision notices and finalising amended Education, Health and Care Plans in line with the statutory guidelines.

A council spokesperson said: “While we can’t comment in detail on the individual complaint, the council has accepted the LGSCO’s recommendations in relation to this case, we have apologised to the family, we have learnt lessons and put in place improvements to the way we support families with children’s Education, Health and Care Plans.”

Adam Carey