Family receives apology after vulnerable boy left without education for 14 months during pandemic

anonymous child learns
The nine-year-old from Cambridgeshire was left without any education or support for 14 months. Credit: PA

A council has been forced to apologise to a family after a vulnerable child with complex special educational needs was left without any education or support for 14 months during the pandemic.

The nine-year-old boy from Cambridgeshire received no formal schooling since September 2020, and has only been provided with education at home in the last month.

At first Cambridgeshire County Council refused to apologise to the family who raised the situation with the Local Government and Social Care watchdog. They have since revised that position.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “The family tell me they have been ignored and misled by the council.

"Nobody from the council has checked on their son’s wellbeing, or their own, and its poor handling of the case continues to cause them significant distress.

“I am concerned that throughout my investigation the council has demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding of its role in the SEND process and of its legal obligations and duties towards children in the county."

The boy, who has complex Special Educational Needs, including severe neurological-disabilities and a speech and language delay, couldn't go to school on the advice of his GP.

The council issued him with an Education, Health and Care plan in 2016, and last amended it in 2018 - despite their statutory obligation to review it annually.

The family, who wish to remain anonymous, said they finally feel listened to: "This case has taken us a huge amount of time to pursue and continues to cause our whole family significant distress. Unfortunately, we believe this is not an uncommon story.

"We now look to Cambridgeshire County Council to take action on all the report recommendations without further delay."

"We know we could and should have done better."

A spokesperson for Cambridgeshire County Council said: "We understand and accept the judgement, and our Chief Executive Stephen Moir has made a personal apology to the family.

"We know we could and should have done better. The compensation suggested by the Local Government Ombudsman is being made.

"There is much more that needs to be done to support children with special educational needs and disabilities in Cambridgeshire, which is why it has been made a priority by our Joint Administration."

The council said there will be a plan addressing the concerns identified by the Ombudsman which will be discussed in July.  

The Ombudsman told the council in its findings that it should apologise to the family, and arrange alternative provision so the boy can return to school.

They also advised that they should issue an amended EHC plan and inform the parents of their right to appeal to the SEND tribunal.

The report also said that Cambridgeshire County Council should also pay the family £7,000 to recognise the lack of education and a further £1,000 to recognise the stress, frustration and time and trouble caused to the family.