County council’s failings led to child with learning difficulties missing year of school

CAMBRIDGESHIRE County Council has been found guilty of a series of failings over the educational needs of a teenager with complex learning difficulties and a history of behavioural problems which led to him missing a “crucial year of education”.

The Local Government Ombudsman, the watchdog for local authorities, unearthed a theme of disarray and a lack of urgency within the council’s children and young peoples services which led to the 16-year-old child being left out of school and distress and uncertainty for his family.

It was also found there was confusion between two councils once the child, known only as Harry, moved to a separate authority, Peterborough, and the responsibility for his education was not transferred because of a breakdown in communication.

The council were found guilty of maladministration causing injustice by ombudsman Dr Jane Martin and had to pay �2,750 in compensation. Peterborough City Council had to pay �1,750.

The investigation was prompted when Harry’s grandmother, known only as Mrs Jones, complained about the two councils’ handling of her grandson’s schooling needs.

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In 2008 an assessment commissioned by the children’s services team recommended a “specialist residential school placement” but the education team at the council refused to fund this on the grounds Harry had no education needs.

Dr Martin judged the council failed to take into account his statement of Special Education Needs and based its funding decision on “insufficient information”. Her report highlighted that Harry had trouble with “inappropriate sexualised behaviour”.

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The report concluded Harry had missed a year of school and “nine months of supported socialising” and that the actions of both councils “made a difficult situation much harder for Harry and his family”.

It said Harry’s mother lost control of her son’s situation and “the opportunity to influence results, because she was not appropriately sign-posted”.

Cambridgeshire County Council ended up providing 10 hours of home tuition a week for Harry, despite him living in Peterborough. He eventually found a place at a college in September, 2009.

The report of the ombudsman was made public at a meeting of the council’s cabinet on Tuesday, despite the meeting’s agenda calling for the exclusion of the press and the public. Leader of the council Nick Clarke called for the item to be held in public for the sake of “transparency”, though Dr Martin had already said the findings should be made public as it is in the public interest.

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr David Brown, portfolio holder for the children’s service, said: “Sufficient to say, for a number of reasons the annual review for a young person was not carried out.

“We do complete 3,000 statements a year but we are not using that as an excuse. Efforts have been taken to ensure this will not happen again.”

To protect the identities of Harry and Mrs Jones, the names used are not real.

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