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Suffolk County Council told to pay £8,000 to family of young autistic girl who lost out on 18 months of schooling

A council has been told to pay more than £8,000 to the family of a young girl with autism who missed out on 18 months of schooling due to failures to provide alternative education.

An investigation into the authority by The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) found it did not do enough for the girl – who has not been identified – between March 2022 and September 2023.

She could no longer attend school and her mother made several requests for SCC to provide a package which would allow her to study away from school, but adequate provision was not put in place, a report by the LGSCO said.

Suffolk County Council have approved a £10m investment to resurface the county's roads
Suffolk County Council have approved a £10m investment to resurface the county's roads

The authority took 18 months to provide an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan for her, nearly four times the 20-week guideline, which caused the family ‘distress and anxiety’, the report said.

Cllr Andrew Reid, SCC’s cabinet member for education and SEND, apologised to the child and her family for the distress caused.

The authority fully accepted the ombudsman’s findings that its involvement ‘wasn’t good enough’, he said.

Cllr Andrew Reid apologised to the family and accepted the ombudsman’s findings. Picture: SCC
Cllr Andrew Reid apologised to the family and accepted the ombudsman’s findings. Picture: SCC

According to the report, the mother complained that SCC was trying to force her daughter into a school setting.

Ombudsman Amerdeep Somal said the mother – known as Miss X – did all she could to get SCC to accommodate her daughter.

Ms Somal said the daughter lost more than a year of education at a vital point in her life because the council did not prioritise her needs.

“Despite her repeated contact with the council, no education was forthcoming and instead the council took far too long to produce a vital Education, Health and Care Plan for the girl which would identify the support that would be provided for her,” she said.

Ms Somal said several recommendations were made to improve SCC’s service for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in recent years.

It is also under scrutiny from Ofsted and is in the process of implementing changes, according to the report.

However, issues with SEND provision are a national issue with problems at authorities across the country, Ms Somal said.

“We have not made any further recommendations beyond those to remedy the family’s situation,” she added.

“Obviously any future investigations we carry out into the council’s education services will provide important evidence as to whether the council’s efforts to improve have been effective.”

The ombudsman did not investigate events prior to March 2022, or after September 2023, when the EHC was delivered.

The girl started secondary school in 2021 but could not cope and was removed from school, the report said.

The child was diagnosed with autism in November 2021 as well as difficulties with communication and interaction.

SCC agreed to carry out an EHC in May 2022.

The report found the child did not attend school between March 2022 and September 2023 and the council did not provide alternate provision.

The council’s failure to provide an EHC within the recommended time frame was also a fault, it said.

Among its recommendations after the investigation, the ombudsman has given SCC three months to apologise to the child and her family.

It should also pay them £8,000 in compensation, plus an additional £300 to Miss X in recognition of the stress and anxiety the incident caused.

SCC has accepted these recommendations.

Cllr Reid added: “This ruling is not a surprise to us. We know the areas where we must do better and there are significant plans in place to improve what we do.

“Scrutinised at the highest level, officers from the Department for Education continue to challenge and hold us accountable on these plans.”