Council challenges ombudsman over disabled boy's education

Redbridge Town Hall

Redbridge Town Hall - Credit: Ken Mears

Redbridge Council says it does “not accept all the recommendations” made by an ombudsman who ordered it to pay almost £10,000 to a disabled boy’s family.

On February 12, the local government ombudsman told the council to pay £9,800 to the family of a disabled 11-year-old and “complete an audit” of all children with special needs at his school.

Ombudsman Michael King said the council’s failures meant the boy, who has severe epilepsy and autism, missed out on year seven and 16 months of therapeutic care.

A spokesperson from Redbridge Council would not confirm whether it was the recommendation to pay the family or to audit the care for children at his school that it would not accept.

They said: “We fully accept that there are lessons to be learned from this case. 

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“At the same time, we are of the considered view that the ombudsman has not fully acknowledged the complex issues in this case relating to the child’s overall health and challenges in accessing learning. 

“We have formally responded to the ombudsman, expressing our concerns regarding the report, and why we do not accept all the recommendations that have been made.

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“The events described took place between 2015 and 2018. We will consider learning opportunities for children who are too ill to attend school on an ongoing basis.”

The child, not named for privacy reasons, was due to start secondary school in 2015 but was too ill to attend for a year, during which time the council failed to arrange home schooling.

When he returned to school, his mother discovered he was not receiving some of the support, such as physiotherapy, outlined in his care plan and began paying for weekly sessions herself.

In a report on the decision, ombudsman Michael King wrote: “Upon concluding that (he) was medically unfit to attend school, the council had a duty to provide alternative education.

“The council’s failure to assess (his) suitability for homeschooling, meant he went without education and (special educational needs) provision for a whole school year. This is an injustice.”

Regarding the lack of support once at school, Mr King wrote: “There were very few face-to-face sessions with an occupational therapist, with prolonged periods where no sessions took place at all.

“His physiotherapy provision was also not fully met, with prolonged periods without any sessions taking place, despite records showing he was attending school.

“(His mother) arranged physiotherapy sessions for (him) at a cost of £60 a session but was unable to afford to pay for the other provisions not being met by the council.

“(He) went without his therapies from when he returned to school in September 2016, until… May 2018, a period of approximately 16 months.”

The council was instructed to provide the ombudsman with “evidence that it has reminded staff… to assess children who are out of education due to poor health”.

It was also told to complete an audit of all children receiving special educational needs support at the boy’s school, to ensure they are receiving it as required, within three months.

Mr King concluded: “I now urge Redbridge Council to take on board the recommendations in my report and consider how they might implement them to improve services for children with special educational needs in the borough.”

Ombudsman recommendations do not carry the same legal power as damages awarded in a court of law, although councils tend to accept them in all but “a very small proportion of cases”.

In 2014, South Holland District Council successfully paid only a fifth of the £250,000 compensation recommended by the ombudsman after winning a High Court case. 

Supreme Court judge James Sales ruled that, though an ombudsman’s recommendations must “be taken very seriously”, councils can “have regard to other pressing aspects of the public interest in deciding whether to accept”.

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