THE council has been forced to pay £3,700 and apologise to a distressed mother for failing to provide education for her autistic son for 20 months.

Worcestershire County Council was criticised for failing to provide alternative education for an autistic boy between October 2017 and June 2019.

The council also failed to properly assess the boy and has been ordered to apologise and pay £3,700 to the unnamed mother by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

Councils have a statutory duty to provide full-time education where a child cannot attend school because of exclusion, medical reasons or otherwise.

The mother had complained the county council had not provided appropriate education for her autistic son for 20 months which had caused his mental health to suffer as well as cause her and the rest of her family to suffer emotional distress.

The ombudsman added the council had failed and should have assessed the boy and developed an education plan until he was assessed as being able to return to school.

The ombudsman said the council could not know whether interim arrangements arranged by the school were suitable because it did not conduct its own assessments of the boy which was its duty.

“I am satisfied this caused a significant injustice to [the boy]. He was without education for a significant period,” the report said. “Children have a right to an effective education and any time they miss is difficult to replace later.

“There was also an injustice to [the mother]. The council caused her avoidable distress by not making suitable alternative arrangements for [the boy’s] education.

“[The boy] missed the majority of his first year at secondary school. There is no evidence he had any educational provision from October 2018 to May 2019 and he has complex needs.”

The report said problems had started when the council did not issue the boy with an education, health and care (EHC) plan – a legal document which describes a child or young person’s special educational, health and social care needs – in April 2017 and by October he was unwell and attending primary school less often.

The council contacted the mother in July 2018 over her concerns about her son’s poor attendance due to his anxieties. The son was due to start secondary school in September 2018.

The mother provided medical evidence which showed her son was unable to attend school in August 2018 which the council was not satisfied with and asked for more.

The council alerted the son’s new secondary school saying he had not been attending primary school and explained the medical evidence provided by the mother did not refer to whether he could attend secondary school or not.

At the end of September 2018, the secondary school informed the council that the boy was not coping very well. The council also received a letter from the boy’s GP in October confirming he could not attend school.

The council advised the school to make a referral to its medical education team, which makes sure children who are unable to attend school because of medical needs get appropriate education, but they did not respond.

The ombudsman said the council should have intervened then and found alternative education and its medical education team should have responded.

A draft EHC plan was sent to the mother in November 2018 but the mother asked for an extension to respond because she was unhappy with the draft plan and wanted several more assessments to be carried out in February before she replied.

In January 2019, the council contacted the school and asked for an update on what suitable arrangements it was making for the boy in line with the medical advice.

The draft plan was returned to the council in March 2019 which the mother said was because it was full of inaccuracies. The council took another two months to work through the returned draft and issue a final plan in April.

Cllr Marcus Hart, cabinet member for education, said: “We take the complaint and the LGO investigation and findings seriously.

“We have accepted the recommendations of the investigation and have apologised to the family for our failings. We are currently undertaking a detailed review of our arrangements to support children who are unable to access education, and will use the findings and learning from this investigation to inform future practice.”