Central Bedfordshire Council ordered to pay £500 to mum over SEND complaint

Central Bedfordshire Council's Chicksands HQCentral Bedfordshire Council's Chicksands HQ
Central Bedfordshire Council's Chicksands HQ
The council agreed its communication with the mum was “unsatisfactory”

The mother of a child with special educational needs was offered £500 compensation after a Bedfordshire local authority upheld her complaint about a school placement.

But the local government and social care ombudsman decided not to pursue an investigation over her daughter’s secondary school placement “because it has been subject to an appeal, which means it’s outside our jurisdiction”.

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Her daughter has an education, health and care plan (EHCP), and was due to begin secondary school last month (September 2023).

The mother complained Central Bedfordshire Council “failed to engage properly over her daughter’s transfer to secondary school and about the fact she hadn’t been receiving full-time education at her primary school”, according to the ombudsman’s report.

“She said this has had a serious impact on her daughter’s mental health, and caused distress and disruption to her and the rest of her family,” said the report.

She was unhappy “CBC didn’t engage properly with her about the secondary placement, which was to be named on her daughter’s EHCP”. After initially agreeing she should attend a specialist school, the council decided she could manage at a mainstream school with support.

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“Her mother strongly disagreed about that, with the backing of a number of professionals. She complained CBC regularly failed to reply or responded late when she contacted the local authority to discuss the placement issue, and it didn’t consult with the schools she thought might be suitable for her daughter.”

Her daughter “was spending most of the school day in one-to-one sessions with a teaching assistant, was frequently absent from school for health reasons and had stopped attending school entirely more recently”.

The ombudsman explained: “We could investigate a complaint about a lack of educational provision for that child, but the complainant must first raise it formally as a complaint to the council.

“Without being able to consider these points, we can’t meaningfully investigate a more general complaint about poor communication from the council with regard to them.”

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CBC investigated and upheld the complaint, “agreeing its level of communication with the mother was unsatisfactory”.

It offered her a remedy of £300, which it then increased to £500, saying it had made changes to the structure of its special educational needs team and recruited more staff to improve the service it offered.

“Dissatisfied with the council’s responses, she approached the ombudsman in June.”

The ombudsman added: “The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers, but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.

“The law says we can’t normally investigate a complaint unless we’re satisfied the council knows about it and has had an opportunity to investigate and reply. I’ve discontinued my investigation.”