Wirral Council fined over girl’s missed education

WIRRAL Council was ordered to pay £600 in compensation to the mother of an autistic girl 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.

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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 the mother and daughter, as well as the schools 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, her mother said she was bullied and complained of health problems.

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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 her refusal to go to school.

But the woman said there was a three year wait for her daughter’s CAMHS assessment and the council refused to set up an EHC plan on three separate occasions before finally doing so in April 2019.

This apparently contributed 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.

By July, Mrs X said no progress was being made.

The school responded to this by asking the council to give the mother a penalty notice for poor attendance.

Wirral Council did then send a 15-day warning letter to the family, who strongly objected to it.

She said her daughter was suffering a ‘high level’ of anxiety and that she could not physically get her to leave the house and go to school.

Mrs X said she had “tried many different avenues with a full trail of evidence – social and medical”.

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She said this included 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 her daughter could continue some level of education while she was not attending school.

However the 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, the girl’s doctor said she 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 her doctor would make a referral to another school, the ‘Hospital School’, as well as the council’s Home Education Service.

By June 2018 the Home Education Service was providing 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 she became reluctant to attend, with a decision later made that the girl would attend part time with the aim of increasing her hours.

The ombudsman found Wirral Council ‘at fault’ over the episode, saying it 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.

The council had argued that it had not viewed finding alternative education for the girl was not its responsibility but that of the school she was registered to.

The council also said it 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 the girl missed out on four months of education, from February 2018 to June 2018 – when her home tuition began.

However her mother said the entire episode had effectively denied her daughter of almost three years of schooling.

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.”

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