Who is the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman?
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) looks at complaints about councils and some other organisations, such as care providers. An LGSCO investigation is the last stage of a complaints process for people who have given the council or provider an opportunity to resolve the issue first. It is a free service. The LGSCO will produce a report on their findings and will determine whether or not there have been failings or maladministration which has caused an injustice. The LGSCO will also make recommendations to the council or organisation about how they should improve their services and, in some cases, compensate the people who have be treated unfairly. It is for the council or organisation to accept whether or not it accepts the LGSCO’s findings and recommendations, although in practice most councils and organisations do accept them. In this case, the council has fully accepted the LGSCO’s recommendations and is taking action to address them.
What has the Council done in response to the Ombudsman’s recommendations?
The Council has fully accepted the Ombudsman’s recommendations. Since the publication of the final report, the Council has formally apologised to the three families involved in the Ombudsman’s investigation and has paid compensation for their children’s loss of education and the time, trouble and distress caused to them. It has also commissioned an independent audit of Education, Health and Care Plans. In addition, the Council asked for a peer review of its special educational needs and/or disability (SEND) services from the Local Government Association (LGA). This took place in October 2019. The LGA review provided an external view of how the 2014 SEND reforms have been implemented locally. The review looked at the improvements that had been made in the previous 18 months and identified where further work was needed to improve SEND services.
What is the audit about?
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman looked at three complaints from families in Richmond about the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) support provided to their children. The Ombudsman found that there were significant failings in the support that the Council and Achieving for Children provided to these children and families between 2016 and 2017. In particular the Ombudsman found that there had been: delays in producing Education, Health and Care Plans during the transfer process; a failure to provide children with the right educational provision; and poor record-keeping. One of the recommendations made by the Ombudsman was that the Council should complete an audit of all its current Education, Health and Care Plans to see if any other children and families are being affected by similar issues to those found by the Ombudsman.
Why is the audit solely focused on Education, Health and Care Plans?
The specific recommendation made by the Ombudsman is that the Council completes an audit of all those cases of to children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities for which it and its provider (Achieving for Children) is currently responsible. The Council, through Achieving for Children, is directly responsible for children and young people aged between 0 and 25 with Education, Health and Care Plans. It is not directly responsible for children who are supported at SEND Support level in schools. Achieving for Children does work closely with schools to make sure that there is good quality teaching and learning for all pupils in all schools, including pupils with special educational needs and disabilities at SEND Support level.
What are the South West London Audit Partnership doing?
The South West London Audit Partnership (SWLAP) provides internal audit services to five London boroughs, including Richmond. SWLAP have been commissioned to complete an audit of the processes used in Achieving for Children for Education, Health and Care Plans. Their audit will involve reviewing the controls in place around the education, health and care assessment and planning process to help ensure they are completed within the statutory timescales and follow the statutory framework and the SEN Code of Practice. The SWLAP audit will sample test cases to identify whether the processes work, are effective, comply with statutory requirements and accurately capture all required information.
How many Education, Health and Care Plans will be audited?
There are currently 1,495 Education, Health and Care Plans; all of these plans will be audited.
Who are the auditors?
The auditors are a group of independent professionals who are experienced in different aspects of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision and the Education, Health and Care planning process. They are: a lawyer with considerable SEND experience; a Parent Partnership officer: and three SEND casework managers who have worked in other local authorities.
Are the auditors independent?
Yes. The auditors have been selected for their impartiality. None of the auditors have previously worked for Richmond Council, Kingston Council or Achieving for Children, either as a permanent employee, as an interim or as a consultant. The auditors work remotely and are not based in Achieving for Children’s offices other than to attend meetings about the audit.
What is the timeframe of the audit?
The auditors will look at all casework from 1 April 2018 to the current date in the 1,495 Education, Health and Care Plans that are supported by the Council through Achieving for Children now. If the auditors identify that there are issues prior to 1 April 2018 that are continuing to have an impact for their child now, then earlier casework will also be examined in the audit. Parents and carers are able to identify to the auditors if there are such issues in their child’s case that should be examined.
Are there any initial findings?
The auditors have been asked to escalate to the Director of Children’s Services any cases where they have immediate concerns that the education, health or care needs of a child are not being met. A small number of cases have been escalated. Actions are in place to address the failings in these cases. The auditors have identified some common themes in their audit work so far. These are that: (a) there is inconsistent record-keeping; (b) actions identified in annual reviews are not always leading to an amended EHC plan being issued in a timely manner; and (c) there is inconsistent communication with parents and carers in some cases.
How can parents contribute their views?
All parents and carers who have a child with an Education, Health and Care Plan should have received a letter in the post shortly after 24 January 2020. This explained the audit process and how parents and carers could contribute their views. A second letter was sent by post to parents and carers on 25 February 2020. Parents can contribute their views to the auditors by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Parents can also write to the audit team at RUILS, 4 Waldegrave Road, Teddington, TW11 8HT. RUILS are a local charity that supports the parents and carers of children with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND). RUILS hosts the email and post address for the audit team to help ensure the independence of the audit. The audit team will contact parents and carers by telephone to discuss any issues that have been identified with their child’s Education, Health and Care Plan. The views of parents and carers will inform the audit process.
How will you report the audit findings?
We are expected to report the findings from the audit to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman by 18 April 2020. This will be a combined report on the findings from the audits completed by the independent auditors and the South West London Audit Partnership. Our response to the Ombudsman will also explain what actions we will be taking to respond to any failings that have been identified in the audit of Education, Health and Care Plans and the process audit by the South West London Audit Partnership. We intend to publish a summary of the report on the Local Offer website by 30 April 2020. There will be an interim report on the findings from the audits presented to the Education and Children’s Services Committee of Richmond Council at its meeting on 2 April 2020. A final report will be presented to the same Committee at its meeting on 24 June 2020. The reports will be available on the Council’s website shortly before the meeting at this link: Committee Details
What records do the auditors have access to?
The auditors have access to all the case records relating to a child with an Education, Health and Care Plan. They will review information that is relevant to the audit. One of the findings from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman was that record-keeping for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in Achieving for Children was poor. This was because information on a child was held in different formats, including in electronic and paper copies, and in a number of different databases and locations. An early response to the Ombudsman’s draft report was to improve record-keeping by consolidating children’s records onto a single electronic case recording system. This included scanning paper records onto this electronic system. Some children’s records are still held on a different electronic system, but are in the process of being transferred. The auditors have access to all electronic systems. The auditors are confident that they have access to all the records that they need to complete a fair and thorough audit. This includes the complaints and issues log for Achieving for Children’s SEND services, and those cases where there have been dispute resolution and referrals to the SEND Tribunal.
When will the audit be finished?
The audit started in early January 2020 and we expect it to be finished by the end of March 2020. The number of audits completed is published on the Local Offer website on a weekly basis. The current rate of completion suggests that the auditors are on track to complete the audit by the end of March. It is essential, though, that all audits are completed to a high standard and so must not be rushed to fit this timescale. If more time is needed to complete the audit, then we have the option to ask the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman for a short extension to complete the audit.