An autistic child missed her GCSEs due to the failings of Surrey County Council, a watchdog has found. The girl missed about 40 weeks of education, the local government and social care ombudsman said, with only limited provision – much of which was online – during this time.
The county council also failed to engage with medical professional involved with the girl, or provide any up-to-date notes to suggest what educational provision it considered suitable for the girl.
It led to the ombudsman to find fault with Surrey County Council for “failing to provide suitable alternative provision” and ordered the authority to apologise to the mother and child for the loss of education and support.
After the ombudsman investigated the mother’s complaint, the council also agreed to pay £3,650 for the child’s missed education and £2,823.50 to for the cost of the private tutors.
The council also agreed to fund the child’s functional skills examinations to address her missed GCSEs.
In April 2021, the girl’s doctor asked for her to be signed off from school because of her sensory and communication difficulties.
The following month the school referred her to Surrey County Council because of her low attendance – having been out of education for more than 15 days.
The girl’s mother told the county council that her daughter had been signed off while doctors completed an Autism Spectrum Disorder assessment.
Work was being sent to the girl to complete but her mother expressed concerns over its suitability and had to search online to supplement this. That same month, her mother hired a private tutor for seven hours a week. By June ,she was attending half-days of school to see out the academic year. She began the new term after summer but stopped attending on September 13.
According to the ombudsman: “The law is clear that where a school does not make appropriate arrangements for a child who is missing education through illness or ‘otherwise’, the council must intervene and make such arrangements itself. The duty arises after a child has missed fifteen days of education either consecutively or cumulatively.”
From September 13, 2021 , to November 22, 2021, the child missed two further months of education during a key academic year, yet received no alternative provision during this time.
In total, during the period under review, the girl received the equivalent of 20 per cent of a full-time education.
The lasting impact of all this, the ombudsman found, was that the girl “failed to take any of her year 11 GCSE examinations and has left mainstream secondary education without qualifications. This will have a lasting impact on (her) future. (Her mother) has advised she wants (her daughter) to take functional skills examinations in maths and English.”
Surrey County Council has agreed to fund these.
Councillor Clare Curran, cabinet member for education and learning apologised for the distress the family experienced. She said: “I am aware that the council has not always got things right and that the support and service that we give some children with additional needs and their families is not always of the standard that we would expect and I am sorry about that. We are working hard to improve our services.
“We are not able to comment on any individual children specifically, however we are constantly reviewing how we support young people who are unable to attend school, and are implementing our £180million capital programme to increase the availability of, and access to specialist provision. We also recognise the significant issues that confront the SEND system nationally.
“We have seen a 64 per cent increase in education, health and care needs assessment requests across Surrey since 2020, at a time of a national shortage of Educational Psychologists (EPs). We are doing our utmost to recruit more to meet this demand, and we are filling this gap as best we can, but we hope to see the shortage in trained EPs and other issues addressed soon through the government’s improvement plan.
“We remain committed to improving our services and outcomes for children with additional needs so that they are happy, healthy, safe and confident about their future.”
The girl is said to be due to enrol in her sixth-form college in September 2023, and will be able to take her GCSE examinations there.