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Dorset to improve alternative education provision following Ombudsman investigation

Dorset Council is to improve the way it provides alternative education for children who are unable to go to school, after a boy with special educational needs missed out on education for nearly two years.

The boy’s mother complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman that her son, who has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and traits of Autism, had been experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety when he became unable to attend school.

Between February 2020 and November 2021 the boy was provided with very little suitable education, or support for his needs, apart from a brief period where he was provided with social activities.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council failed to provide the boy with proper alternative education and social support for much of the period. The investigation also found fault with the way the council reviewed the boy’s Education, Health and Care Plan. It also criticised the council’s communication with the boy’s mother and the way it handled her complaints.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, yesterday said:

“Councils have a duty to ensure alternative education is provided for children who are unable to attend school for whatever reason, and they cannot delegate this duty to schools or other providers.

“In this case, a boy with special needs has been without proper education for a significant period.

“I’m also issuing a special report today highlighting this case is not unique – far too many children across the country are missing out on the vital support they need to achieve their full potential because they are being denied their basic right to an education.

“I am pleased Dorset Council has readily agreed to the recommendations I have made to put things right in this case. I hope the changes it will make to the way it keeps track of children out of school, and the services it provides for them, will ensure other children are not disadvantaged like this child.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman remedies injustice and shares learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services.

In this case the council has agreed to apologise to the mother and pay her £500 to recognise the lost opportunity for her child to receive education between May and July 2020, and also the lost opportunity to comment on the draft EHC Plan in February 2021.

It will also pay the mother £6,300 to recognise the impact of lost education on her son, plus a further £1,500 in recognition of the avoidable stress and anxiety caused It will also pay a further £500 for the avoidable time and trouble and for the council’s poor communication.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council should ensure annual reviews and transfer reviews are tracked for all children with EHC Plans. It will also improve its record keeping and communication with parents and improve its complaints handling.

The council has also agreed to ensure suitable alternative provision is made for children who need it.  It will show the Ombudsman how it will track alternative provision  being made to children and how it will ensure children who are out of school meet their educational and special educational needs.

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