A boy with special educational needs missed a year’s schooling because Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council wrongly refused to take responsibility for educating him. The Ombudsman says “No reasonable authority would have relied upon such insubstantial information to make decision about a vulnerable child…” and recommends it to agree with the parents and the school on what can be done to help the boy catch up on his missed education, and to pay compensation.
The boy’s father (called ‘Mr H’ in the report) won an appeal to a Special Education Needs and Disability Tribunal about the secondary school to be named in his younger son’s statement of special educational needs. Almost immediately afterwards the Council’s Education officers became suspicious that Mr H’s family were not actually living at the property they owned in the Council’s area. The Council refused to take responsibility for the younger son’s education. Mr H provided full information about his circumstances and living arrangements to the Council Tax Service, which accepted that the family were using their Wirral property as their main residence. When the Council’s Legal Department subsequently made enquiries of Mr H, he declined to send it the same information he had already provided, but twice directed it to the Council Tax Section. The Legal Department did not contact the Council Tax Section and the Education Service continued to refuse to take responsibility for the boy’s education.
The Council would not accept responsibility for the boy and did not comply with the law until the Ombudsman began her enquiries. As a result, the boy lost almost a year of education at the school specified in his statement of special educational needs, his parents paid for private tuition, and they experienced stress and anxiety in trying to resolve the issue.
The Ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice and recommends the Council to:
- accept that it has no justification for its claim not to be responsible for Mr H’s son;
- discuss and agree with the school and the parents whether there is any additional provision that could be made to help their son ‘catch up’ on the year’s schooling that he has missed;
- reserve a sum of money, equivalent to the cost of educating Mr H’s son at the school for a year, in a fund until he has completed year 11 and then deploy the fund on any additional educational provision that the school and an educational psychologist recommend as being beneficial;
- pay Mr H £1,000 in recognition of his anxiety, stress, time and trouble; and
- pay Mr H a further £655 to reimburse private tutoring fees for his son during 2007