South London mum awarded £2.3k after EHCP blunders meant daughter didn’t have support she needed – she then got excluded

A South London mum has been awarded £2,300 after a council failed to provide her daughter with all the education she needed when she was permanently excluded from school. Sutton Council also delayed providing the girl with an education, health and care (EHC) plan, according to a watchdog report.

The mum, named Ms X in the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman report, claimed her daughter’s behaviour worsened and she was expelled as provision in her EHC plan was not in place from September 2022 due to delays. The ombudsman said it could not determine whether this caused her daughter, referred to as Y, to be expelled but that it created “uncertainty” for Ms X.

Ms X asked the council to carry out an EHC needs assessment for Y on February 24, 2022. The council told her of its decision not to issue an EHC plan on July 28 that year. After Ms X complained, the council said it should have provided her with a decision earlier, apologised for the delay and blamed it on peak workloads and staff shortages.

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But the council then decided it should issue an EHC plan for the girl, after it consulted again with the educational psychologist who provided a report for the previous assessment and confirmed she needed full-time support. It issued a final EHC plan for the girl on September 23 which outlined provision she needed, including a learning mentor providing one-to-one support, speech and language therapy, a psychoeducation programme and occupational therapy.

The report found the council’s changed decision about the EHC plan appeared to be a “result of misunderstandings” between the authority and educational psychologist. It said the council “should have issued Y with a final EHC plan 20 weeks after Ms X made the request for an EHC needs assessment” and that “failure to do so was fault”.

The girl was permanently excluded from school on November 17, 2022. The council consulted with schools to find her a new placement, and put in place one-to-one tuition with an alternative provider. But, the report said, she did not receive the speech and therapy sessions and support or the psychoeducation programme listed in her EHC plan. Her daughter started a new school placement in late April 2023.

The ombudsman said: “Had the council issued Y with an EHC plan within 20 weeks of Ms X’s request for an assessment, Y would have received a final EHC plan by 14 July 2022 and provision would have been in place sooner. Y therefore started receiving the provision in her EHC plan later than she would have done if not for the council’s fault. Ms X’s appeal rights to challenge the content of the plan were also delayed.

“Ms X argued that because Y did not have the provision in her EHC plan in place from September 2022, when she returned to school, her behaviour worsened and she was expelled. On balance, I cannot say whether the delay in issuing Y’s EHC plan caused her expulsion, however it has created uncertainty for Ms X and this is an injustice.”

The council had provided the girl’s school with funding to put in place what her EHC plan said she needed, after issuing it in late September 2022, and backdated this funding to the start of term. But the ombudsman said the EHC plan “should have been completed sooner, and if it had she would have likely started to receive her special educational provision from the start of September 2022”.

The ombudsman told the council to apologise for the “delay in issuing Y’s EHC plan and for not providing all of the special educational provision after Y was permanently excluded from school”. It also ordered the authority to pay her £2,300 in total, including £1,800 for the loss of special educational needs provision and £500 to acknowledge the “distress and uncertainty” she experienced. The council also agreed to put in place some of the missed provision.

A Sutton Council spokesperson said: “The experiences of children and families with special educational needs and disabilities continues to be a focus for Sutton. Like other local authorities we are facing unprecedented pressures on our services and we are working closely with partners to provide better outcomes for children and young people with SEND.”

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