Council apologises to mum of autistic girl for failure to provide alternative education

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Suffolk County Council said it would be reviewing policies and providing staff training to ensure children similar circumstances are offered a suitable alternative - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Suffolk County Council has apologised to the mother of an autistic girl who missed five months of school due to its failure to provide alternative education.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman upheld a woman's complaint that the council failed to provide a suitable alternative for her daughter when she was unable to attend school due to anxiety. 

The council said it would be reviewing policies and providing staff training to ensure children with special educational needs in similar circumstances are offered a suitable alternative in the future.

It had refused the woman's request for a special educational needs assessment after the girl was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in 2019.

Pending an appeal to the SEND (special educational needs and disability) tribunal, the girl became increasingly anxious and stopped attending school on a full-time basis.  

The ombudsman found that the council should have provided some alternative education while attempting to reintegrate the girl back into school.

A report said the council was wrong in thinking the girl would only have been entitled to alternative provision if she had provided medical evidence.

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Under legislation, it said, the council had a duty to provide alternative education for a child unable to attend school due to illness, exclusion or otherwise. 

It should have either provided alternative education or obtained evidence the girl was unable to cope with any more education, even at home, said the ombudsman, who added that the council's failure to provide any alternative caused significant distress, time and trouble to the girl's mother.

The ombudsman recommended that the council apologise and pay the woman £2,000 to remedy the failure to provide education, plus £300 for her time and trouble in pursuing a complaint.

The council also agreed to review its policy, provide training and check alternative provision for other children in similar circumstances.

A spokesman said: “We wish to apologise to the mother for our failings with her daughter’s education.

“We fully accept the decision of the ombudsman and, as a result of this case, we will review our policies, provide staff training and ensure the right provision is offered for children in similar circumstances.”