A South London council has been told to pay nearly £6,000 to a mum after failing to arrange alternative education for her child, who missed school for almost a year.

Bromley Council has been criticised by the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman for causing significant stress to a mother while her child was missing school due to anxiety, according to a recent report.

The child’s mum, called Mrs X in the report, had a meeting with Bromley Council in May 2022 to say her child had only attended half of her lessons that year.

The report said the child’s poor attendance was due to their anxiety, which prevented them from attending school after they started year 9 in September 2022.

The child, named D in the report, was referred to local mental health services by their GP, with Mrs X telling the school and Bromley Council her child had been diagnosed with autism.

She also told the council she felt her child needed a comprehensive needs analysis.

A meeting at the end of that month saw the council agreeing to reduce D’s timetable to gradually transition them back to school.

The school also agreed to make a referral to the council’s gateway process for access to the home tuition service. Mrs X also asked the council to assess her child’s needs to provide an educational, health and care (EHC) plan.

The council’s gateway panel decided in early November it could not provide alternative education to D as there was no medical evidence as to why they could not attend school.

The mother sent the council her child’s private assessments but the authority said it required a medical letter explaining why D could not attend school, and claimed GP letters did not count as evidence.

The authority did, however, agree to carry out an EHC assessment for D.

The report added that by mid-January the council had still neither completed its EHC assessment nor responded to several messages from Mrs X about arranging alternative education for D.

The mother then made a complaint to the council.

The child’s school made a further referral to the gateway process in March 2023, with the panel deciding council staff would visit D and Mrs X at home before further consideration.

Council officers reportedly acknowledged D was diagnosed with autism in August 2022 and that her EHC assessment had been significantly delayed.

She also said D was on the waiting list for private counselling.

The report said: “Mrs X told them D could not attend school and Mrs X was concerned about the education they had already missed.

"She was concerned this would continue into year 10 if no support was provided to increase D’s confidence and help them catch up. Mrs X felt the best way forwards would be for D to have some tuition at home.”

The same month, the council’s SEND team responded to Mrs X’s complaint about D’s EHC needs assessment and apologised for the delay of five weeks.

The gateway panel then claimed it still did not have enough medical evidence to grant home tuition.

The mum said D was still out of school with no alternative education and felt her complaint had not been responded to in full. The council reassured her after this that a decision on the EHC plan would be made soon.

The council told Mrs X that D would not be issued with an EHC plan in April 2023, 32 weeks after she asked for a comprehensive needs analysis.

The ombudsman said in their report that the council was at fault for surpassing the 16 weeks that it was legally required to respond.

The report said the delay caused the family distress and that the authority’s gateway panel had not properly considered the information Mrs X gave on D’s individual circumstances. They added that the council did not properly consider its duties to arrange alternative education for the child.

The mother made an appeal to the SEND Tribunal on the council’s decisions in June 2023. The ombudsman also told the council to pay the family £5,900 for the three terms D missed between May 2022 and April 2023 and for the distress caused.

The council must apologise to the family and ensure suitable education is in place for D for the 2023/24 school year. It should also review and amend its policy for children with special needs and share the ombudsman’s report with staff who work with children with such needs.

A Bromley Council spokesperson told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Bromley Council had already acknowledged the difficulties it had faced in progressing this family’s arrangements prior to the involvement of the ombudsman. It then cooperated fully with the ombudsman’s investigation and agreed with the proposed remedial action.”

They added: “The council has completed the first stage of the remedial action and is presently reviewing its policies. The council is committed to providing every child in the borough with the best possible education but, like every other local authority with responsibility for supporting children with SEND, sometimes struggles when the available resources, including those from outside agencies, are insufficient to provide the service we would wish.”