A council has been forced to pay a Derbyshire mum £23,500 after her autistic son missed out on years of education.
During the five years of education the boy missed, his behaviour deteriorated rapidly to the point that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
The boy’s case has now been revealed by council watchdog the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO).
It has found the council at fault for ‘failing’ the boy and causing ‘distress’ to his mother for half a decade.
The boy has been renamed as Y and his mother has been renamed Mrs X to protect their identities.
His exact age has not been revealed but details in the report show that Y is now at least 20 years old.
He did not attend school for the majority of the five years between 2009 and 2014 and was provided with insufficient special educational support during this time, the watchdog has found.
The watchdog’s report found that the council’s annual reviews of his education were ‘wholly ineffective’.
It revealed in its case that the council also took three years to handle the mother’s complaint about the situation, which she filed in 2015.
This was after it decided that its own investigation was of ‘poor quality’.
Its report says that Y is autistic, has learning difficulties and significant problems with communication.
He had a Statement of Special Educational Needs – a document agreed between the council, school, parent and child which agrees the support the pupil is entitled to and requires.
His attendance in secondary school had sat at 14 per cent in 2009, dropping to a low of five per cent in 2015.
The watchdog says that a referral from the council for a Speech and Language Therapy (SALT) assessment found that his knowledge of language was low and that he struggled to express himself.
The report says that Y had learning difficulties and he struggled using and understanding language.
It also said Y struggled to concentrate, was easily distracted and he could be ‘non-compliant and “deliberately oppositional’.
In September 2010, Y’s behaviour worsened and this led to a number of short-term exclusions, the report says.
His school felt that Y’s ‘variable’ attendance, often only an hour per week, and mood swings were ‘making his integration into mainstream school difficult’.
In 2011, Y was transferred to a special school.
During 2013, the report says that Y’s behaviour became worse and he was referred to the council’s social care team ‘following issues with drugs’.
In 2014, at the age of 16, his ‘medication needs had to take priority before educational provision was considered’.
Later that year he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and sectioned.
The report details that Y’s behaviour was unpredictable and was sometimes triggered by his refusal to take his medication.
This impacted on his ability to attend school and created challenges for his family
The council watchdog found that Y’s initial school had said that the boy was receiving education while out of school, which was not the case.
It also says that although problems were identified in annual reviews of Y’s education, there was “little evidence” that action was taken to change them.
For example, there was “no consideration” about teaching Y in an alternative location other than a school in which he would be properly supported.
The watchdog found the council at fault for failing to carry out annual reviews after Year 10 and the “avoidable” delays in handling Mrs X’s complaint.
It said this ‘caused a potentially significant impact to Y’ and ‘he was caused a disadvantage’.
The watchdog has said that the council should pay compensation to cover 45 months of missed education.
This would amount to £22,500 ‘to reflect the impact of her son’s missed education’.
His mother told the council watchdog that the money would be used for a purpose-built shed at the end of the family’s garden which their son intends to use as a quiet place to improve his mental health.
The LGO has also said that the council should pay a further £1,000 to the mother for the ‘distress and uncertainty’ it has caused her.
Michael King, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “I welcome the steps the council has already taken to apologise to the family, learn from its mistakes and improve its policies and procedures to ensure this should not happen again.
“And, while we cannot say to what extent the lack of therapy and support has had on the man’s condition, I am pleased it has also accepted my recommendation to pay the family an amount which should provide him with a space to manage his mental health.”
A spokesman for Derbyshire County Council said: “We accept failings in this case and have apologised. We have reviewed areas of policy and practice to try to avoid this happening again.”
Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service