National Ombudsmen
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Oxfordshire fails to provide alternative education for a year

Oxfordshire County Council has been told it needs to pay £5,000 to the mother of an Autistic boy to make up for the 12 months education he missed when he was unable to attend school.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has also asked the council to pay the mother £2,200 to reimburse the cost of the educational psychologist she had to commission because of the council’s delays.

The mother asked the Ombudsman to investigate after her autistic son was left without education when he became too anxious to attend his primary school. She said the lack of proper education has had a significant impact on her daily life and employment.

The council claimed the boy was receiving appropriate online education from the school after he stopped attending in June 2021, until February 2022. Both the council and the mother’s evidence, however, suggest this education was unsuitable because there was no direct teaching, and what was offered was not based on the boy’s needs. The boy was not given any education at all between February and June 2022.

The council did not check what education was on offer, did not review whether the school could meet the boy’s needs, or find out whether the online education the school was providing was enough to meet his needs when he remained out of school.

The Ombudsman’s investigation also found fault with the way the council requested medical evidence to show why the boy could not attend school, which is contrary to guidance.

The investigation also criticised the six-month delay faced by the family while the council carried out a needs assessment to create an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) for the boy. This should have taken 20 weeks. This meant it took longer than it should to identify the boy’s needs and the provision he required, and also delayed the mother’s ability to challenge the content of the EHCP at a tribunal.

Faults were also found with the way the council handled the mother’s complaints, including delays and poor communication.

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

“Councils have a duty to ensure alternative education is provided and they cannot delegate this duty to schools or other providers.

“I issued a special report about this issue earlier this year, and I am concerned that the evidence I have seen during this investigation suggests officers do not always understand their obligations in this respect.

“I am disappointed Oxfordshire County Council has not accepted the recommendations I have set out in my report. The local democratic process the report will now go through will allow council members to formally decide what value the council places on the lessons that can be learned from this case.”

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 should pay the mother a combined £4,000 for the missed education and a further £1,000 to acknowledge the distress, and avoidable time and trouble and impact on her ability to work, caused by the council’s faults.

The council should also reimburse the £2,200 cost incurred by the mother in commissioning a private educational psychologist assessment, because of the council’s delays.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council should ensure officers are aware of the council’s duty to provide alternative education and ensure it has a process for tracking pupils who require alternative provision to ensure it is reviewed regularly.

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