A Merseyside council paid £600 in compensation to the mother of an autistic daughter, after a report found the authority's error cost the girl four months of education.
The mother said her daughter refused to leave the house in the morning due to anxiety and had been effectively “excluded from mainstream education”.
Once it became clear that the girl could not attend a mainstream school, Wirral Council failed to support her education by arranging alternative teaching quickly.
At one stage – upon the school’s request, the council even threatened the mother with a penalty notice for her daughter's poor attendance.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman made the council compensate the mother £150 for each month of teaching the girl had missed due to its error.
The names of both the mother and daughter – as well as the school’s involved, are anonymised in this report to protect their identities.
The girl – now 14 and referred to as ‘Y’ in the report, started refusing to attend school at primary level.
Upon starting secondary school – in September 2016, Y's mother said she was bullied and complained of health problems.
The girl’s mother – called ‘Mrs X’ in the report, had asked for a CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) assessment and an EHC (Education, Health and Care) plan for her daughter, claiming there was an underlying medical cause for Y’s refusal to go to school.
But Mrs X said there was a three year wait for Y’s CAMHS assessment and the council refused to set up an EHC plan on three separate occasions – until it finally agreed to do so in April 2019.
This appeared to contribute to the delay in providing medical information vital to supporting Y’s education.
Instead – in May 2017, the council set up meetings with Mrs X to try and work out how to increase Y’s school attendance.
But by July, Mrs X said no progress was being made.
The school responded to this by asking the council to give Mrs X a penalty notice for her daughter’s poor attendance.
Wirral Council obliged and sent a 15-day warning letter to Mrs X, who strongly objected to the letter.
She said her daughter was suffering a ‘high level’ of anxiety and that she could not physically get Y to leave the house and go to school.
Rather than giving up, Mrs X said she had “tried many different avenues with a full trail of evidence – social and medical".
This included what she claimed to be a three year wait for a CAMHS appointment.
The mother also said Y had no unauthorised absences, because she contacted the school each time her daughter refused to go to school.
During this period, Mrs X asked for books to be sent home so that Y could continue some level of education while she was not attending school.
But Y’s school refused, saying she should not be refusing to attend school.
In March 2018, after months of correspondence and meetings aimed at solving the situation, Y’s doctor said the girl had “significant issues” meaning she would struggle at any school and home tuition would be the best way forward for her.
It was agreed that Y's doctor would make a referral to another school – the 'Hospital School', and the council's Home Education Service.
By June 2018, the Home Education Service started proving Y with six hours of home tuition per week.
This home tuition continued until October 2018, when Y was considered to be ready to attend the Hospital School.
But after the first two weeks at this school she became reluctant to attend.
It was eventually decided that Y would attend the school part-time with a view to gradually increasing her hours.
The Ombudsman's verdict
Wirral Council was adjudged to be ‘at fault’ and made to pay £600 compensation to Mrs X following this episode.
The report said the council had failed to do its duty in seeking to provide a child who was not receiving education with some alternative teaching.
The report added that the council knew Y’s school attendance was not improving by November 2017 and should have intervened decisively at this point to ensure her education was maintained.
Wirral Council took the view that finding Y alternative education was not its responsibility, but that of the school she was registered to.
The council also waited to receive medical proof of Y’s health issues, despite the fact there was strong evidence to suggest Y was suffering high levels of anxiety.
These errors meant Y missed out on four months of education, from February 2018 to June 2018 – when Y’s home tuition began.
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But taking the whole affair into account, Mrs X said her daughter had missed out on schooling for almost three years.
A Wirral Council spokesperson, said: “Even prior to this report, we had put improvements in place that would prevent the identified failings happening again in a similar situation.
“These improved processes mean we would intervene and help any child, parent or school earlier and more effectively.
“We have acted upon all the recommendations made that relate to the council, including apologising to the family involved and compensating them as directed.”