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Ombudsman investigation highlights councils’ recruitment problems

The problems faced by councils in recruiting educational psychologists have been highlighted in an investigation report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

The report, which upholds a North Yorkshire mother’s complaint about delays by the county council in meeting her son’s Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan, has shown just how difficult councils are finding recruiting staff.

During the investigation, the council told the Ombudsman it had struggled to recruit Educational Psychologists (EPs) and had gone out to four rounds of recruitment, despite offering higher than average salaries. It said it was having to rely on agency staff – and 70% of other councils were having similar problems.

In this case the boy has dyslexia and social, emotional and mental health difficulties. The council issued a delayed EHC Plan despite the EP never meeting the boy in person or virtually. Instead, the plan was produced by the EP gathering information from a teacher and speaking to the boy’s mum over the phone.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council took between three and four months too long to issue the boy’s EHC Plan, which delayed the family’s right to appeal the plan to the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Tribunal. It meant the boy also missed out on the specialist provision he should have received at his mainstream primary school. The Ombudsman’s investigation also found fault with the way the council communicated with the family.

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

“The problems faced by North Yorkshire County Council are reflected in the investigations we conduct into councils up and down the country – and the very real effects this is having on so many children and young adults with additional needs.

“In this case the mother has told me that her son’s mental health worsened because of the delays, to the extent he was vomiting before school because of his unsupported anxiety.

“I welcome the strides the council is already making in trying to improve its recruitment and retention issues and hope to see an improved picture when it reports back to me on its progress.”

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 mum and pay her £250 for the injustice caused and a further £450 for the loss of three months of SEND provision.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to review 26 other complaints it has upheld about delays in its EHC Plan assessments to see if those families are due a remedy in line with the Ombudsman’s recommendations.

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