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Council to undertake full audit of education provision, pay out £17,500 after Ombudsman finds multiple failures in SEN support

The London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames has agreed to carry out a full audit of its education provision and pay £17,500 to three families after the Local Government Ombudsman strongly criticised the council’s children’s service provider, Achieving for Children, for not effectively supporting children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

The Ombudsman said it had “uncovered evidence of children missing out on support and education in three separate cases it has recently investigated, giving cause for concern about systemic failures between the council and its provider”.

In one case, a sixth former with mental health issues was “repeatedly let down and missed out on her education because the council took too long to make the appropriate provision”, the LGO said.

In another case, a primary school child with disabilities missed out on the support he needed because the council took nearly a year to complete his Education, Health and Care Plan.

In the third case, a teenager with SEN who was about to sit her GCSEs, missed out on a year’s education at a private special school, because the council failed to tell her parents it had agreed to fund it.

The LGO said that when its investigators visited the council to inspect case files, they found documents often named or filed incorrectly. “Additionally, the investigation found the council had three separate IT systems for managing information, one of which could only be accessed by a single member of staff. And in one of the cases, the Ombudsman’s investigation was only able to discover what had happened because the family had kept thorough records.”

Richmond has agreed to:

  • apologise to all three families;
  • pay the parents of the first child £1,500 for the delay and lost education provision, along with £500 for distress and a further £250 for their time and trouble in bringing the complaint;
  • in the second case, pay the family a further £1,500 for the loss of SEN provision and £250 for their time and trouble. The council had already apologised and offered the family £4,400 to reimburse the cost of a psychology report the family had commissioned;
  • pay the third family £8,600 to make up for the loss of education provision and for distress, along with a further £500 for the time and trouble caused;
  • carry out an audit of all the children for whom Achieving for Children is responsible, to identify if others have been affected in the same way. “If it finds similar issues with delay, children out of education, or inadequate record-keeping, it should put in place action plans to address these.”

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “The three cases highlighted in my report give rise to serious concerns that there may be systemic failures within the processes operated by the London Borough of Richmond and Achieving for Children. I have published this report in part because other families may very well be affected by issues similar to those I have raised.

“I have now asked the council to undertake a full audit of its education provision and report back to me about what it finds. If the council finds other children have been affected, it should take steps to ensure they do not miss out on the services they are entitled to receive by law.”

Responding to the Ombudsman's report, Ian Dodds, Director of Children’s Services for Richmond Council, said: “Providing high quality special educational needs and disability services and appropriate support for the children and families who need them is a number one priority for Richmond Council and Achieving for Children.

“Implementation of the 2014 SEND Reforms has been an enormous challenge for all local councils, particularly in a context of increasing need for support and raised expectations without adequate government funding to support their effective delivery to all the children and families who need them.”

Dodds added: “The LGSCO report is accepted in full and clearly shows that there were significant failings for some children and young people between 2016 and 2017. This does not reflect what I want to see in place for every child and young person. It does show that Richmond Council and Achieving for Children were slow to recognise the increased demands of the 2014 Act and our sincerest apologies have been extended to the families of the children and young people the Ombudsman has reported on.

“Since the period of the Ombudsman’s investigations, much has been achieved and significant investment has been made locally. There is new leadership in place and a renewed commitment to continuous improvement of local SEND services through our SEND Partnership Board.”

He also pointed to other improvements including:

  • Doubling the resource within the council’s SEND service.
  • Improving the training, support and supervision of SEND team members.
  • Securing external scrutiny to complement its local quality assurance processes through a peer challenge led by the Local Government Association in October 2019.
  • Making significant efforts to listen to the voices of parents, carers and young people through a new Parent Panel, as well as supporting the work to form a new Parent-Carer Forum.

Dodds said: “The proof of the pudding is always in the eating, and I believe that our additional investment is already making a difference. 95% of our Education, Health and Care Plans are completed within the 20-week deadline, and are increasingly of a good quality, compared to 60% nationally. In addition, early indications from the feedback we now systematically collect from parents and carers shows that they the large majority have confidence in our assessment process and in the quality of the final Education, Health and Care Plan for their child. The progress and attainment of children with SEND in Richmond remains strong and is consistently above national benchmarks.

“There is more work to do, though, and I am committed to working with our statutory and voluntary partners and, importantly, with our new Parent-Carer Forum to ensure further improvement.”