Autistic teenager missed months of school ‘because of council errors’

Oxfordshire County Council's base at County Hall in Oxford NNL-180920-115839001
Oxfordshire County Council's base at County Hall in Oxford NNL-180920-115839001

Oxfordshire County Council was responsible for a catalogue of errors which meant a young person with special needs missed months of education, an investigation found.

It took nearly twice as long as it should have to organise education for the teenager between April 2017 and January 2018, according to the Local Government Ombudsman.

The young person, referred to as Y, is on the autistic spectrum. To compensate for its failings, the council will pay his father £500 for distress caused and Y £1,000 as a ‘remedy for avoidable loss of education’.

Y’s father complained after it ‘took too long’ to complete a plan for his son’s schooling.

It should have completed Y’s Education, Health and Care plan to assess special educational needs within 20 weeks – but took 38 weeks to do so.

The council said it accepted the delays were ‘not acceptable’ and pledged to learn from the failings.

Y and his father, referred to as Mr X, moved to Oxfordshire in 2016. Y enrolled at a mainstream sixth form college but experienced ‘a range of serious difficulties’, and although the college tried to help, it said Y needed ‘specialist help’.

The college gave Y one-to-one support from February 2017 – but when that failed, he was put on a part-time timetable from April 2017.

In May 2017, Mr X said Y was asked not to attend the college because of ‘problems he was encountering and the impact on other students’. Later, the council said home tutoring might have been more appropriate – but the ombudsman found it had made no ‘proper consideration’ for what that might have involved.

According to Mr X, Y became ‘increasingly anxious and difficult to manage’.

The report, which was published last month but was decided in September 2018, states: “Mr X said he had to leave his home at times because of Y’s behaviour and its impact on him.”

Y eventually was able to restart his education at his preferred college in January 2018 – but that was subject to another long delay. The college had been asked whether it could meet Y’s needs in September 2017 but only gave the council an answer in November 2017.

The report states: “Y was without meaningful education for all of the September 2017 to December 2017 term and for over a month of the previous term. The council had a duty to identify suitable support arrangements to enable a return to college or appropriate alternative provision.”

Later, in an apology, it mistakenly used Mr X’s first name to refer to Y.

An Oxfordshire County Council spokesman said: “Firstly can we take the opportunity to apologise to the family for the delays that were highlighted in the report published by the LGO in September.

“Oxfordshire County Council and the SEN team work hard to try to ensure that all deadlines are met, however it is clear in this case that this was not achieved.  As you will be aware all local authorities across the country have experienced high levels of requests for Education, Health & Care Needs Assessments since the introduction of the Children’s and Families Act in 2014.

“In addition to this all SEN Statements were required to be converted to Education Health & Care plans by the end of March 2018.

“We accept and agree that the concerns raised in the report were not acceptable and will use these to inform our practice, policies and procedures moving forward to ensure that incidents such as this are not repeated.”

Nathan Briant , Local Democracy Reporting Service