National Ombudsmen
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Ombudsman criticises Leeds Council in three cases about education and care of vulnerable children

Serious and extensive failures in Leeds City Council’s provision of education and care services resulted in substantial injustice for vulnerable children and their parents.

Serious and extensive failures in Leeds City Council’s provision of education and care services resulted in substantial injustice for vulnerable children and their parents, finds Local Government Ombudsman, Anne Seex. Today she issues reports on three different complaints where her investigations found the Council’s service provision was inadequate. All the complaints involved children with special educational needs.

The complaints involved the actions of both the Council and the children’s schools, and the Ombudsman commented that she could not give a complete and comprehensive account as she only has power to investigate complaints about schools from pupils or their parents in 14 local authority areas, and Leeds is not one of them.

In one complaint, a severely disabled girl was left in a situation where, at times:

  • the people caring for and educating her were unable to communicate with her as none of the available staff was competent in British Sign Language
  • there were not enough staff to help her use the toilet, so she returned home in wet trousers, developed blisters and broken skin and suffered urinary tract infections, and
  • the unsuitable and noisy environment meant that she had only very limited use of her cochlear implant – fitted at some cost to the NHS and with some risk to her.

The Council failed as an education authority to ensure that the provision specified in the girl’s statement of special educational needs was made. The Council had information from various sources that her needs were not being met, but it neither made further enquiries nor took any action. The Ombudsman said “It cannot use its failure to properly inform itself as an excuse for its failure to fulfil its statutory duty.”

The Council also failed as a children’s services authority to assess the girl’s needs and those of her family and to provide adequate respite care. As a result, the girl and her family had to struggle through and hold together under enormous strain.

In the second complaint, the Ombudsman found that the Council had failed in its duty as ‘corporate parent’ to provide for the special educational needs of a boy who had been in care of the Council for most of his life. The Council failed to fulfil its statutory duties to promote his welfare and educational attainment. It did not heed professional advice about the interaction of his psychological diagnosis, his learning difficulties and his behaviour – either in its role as his parent or as an education authority. As a result it placed a child whom it knew could not cope with change and insecurity in a school that operated from two sites, and frequently excluded him or tried to educate him off-site. It did not revise his statement of special educational needs or review his placement at a school that was clearly failing to meet those needs and failing to manage his emotional and behavioural problems.

The Ombudsman said it was “inexplicable and inexcusable that these failures could persist over a long period”, and that the Council had “signally and dismally” failed to promote his educational achievement.

In the third complaint, the Ombudsman found that the Council had failed to seek legal advice for a boy when he was arrested and facing a serious criminal charge. Its failure could have serious consequences for his future prospects.

The Ombudsman recommended that the Council take specific action in each case and pay sums of compensation to remedy the identified injustice to the parents and foster parents who complained.

When an investigation identifies serious failings, the Ombudsman normally recommends that a council should undertake a thorough review of the way a service is organised and delivered. But she recognises that the Council has reviewed and reorganised its education and children’s service and therefore does not recommend further review.

She said: “I recognise that the Council has taken significant steps… to improve the personal education plans for looked after children and statements of special education needs”, and that she is aware of the Council’s major reorganisation of education and children’s services that has brought them together in a unified management structure that should be fully implemented by the end of 2011 to provide a single integrated service for the most challenged families.

Report ref no 08 014 844, report ref no 08 022 022, and report ref nos 09 004 278 & 09 011 462


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