Judge Publishes Findings Into Landmark Hearing
The High Court has this morning handed down judgment in the case of families challenging the government’s approach to special educational needs funding.
Three families, from North Yorkshire, Birmingham and East Sussex, had launched a landmark legal case calling on ministers to increase the amount of funding councils receive.
They believed that government budget decisions were leaving local authorities across the country unable to fulfil their legal obligation of providing education to children with special educational needs and disabilities, or SEND.
The families had instructed expert public law and human rights lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to bring the case.
A two-day hearing was held in the High Court in June. In today’s judgment the court found that the families had an arguable case, but ruled that the government did not act unlawfully in the particular circumstances of this case.
Expert Opinion“The decision to take this case to the High Court was not taken lightly.
“The hearing was held in June after the High Court deemed this to be an important issue which needed to be thoroughly examined by the court. We believe that it was the first time that the High Court has granted permission for a legal challenge against a government budget decision.
“We feel we put forward very strong legal arguments on behalf of the families that the decisions taken about SEND funding were so inadequate as to make them unlawful. We and the families are disappointed by today’s decision but thank the court for hearing the case.
“How SEND services are funded is still an incredibly important issue, affecting tens of thousands of families, and one that needs addressing.
“We welcome the announcements that were made after June’s hearing pledging additional government money for SEND and for a review of the SEND system. However, our clients believe that there is still a long way to go.
“It is vital that action is now taken to ensure children benefit from these pledges so young people with SEND can access the education they are entitled to.” Anne-Marie Irwin - Senior Associate
In the September spending round the government said it would provide an additional £700 million in 2020/21 for pupils “with the most complex needs” and in the same month announced the start of a cross-party review into special educational needs and disability and how the law is working in practice. Schools and families are now waiting to see if these pledges materialise into extra funding for education and care for vulnerable children.
Last month the National Audit Office also published a report entitled Support For Pupils With Special Educational Needs and Disabilities in England. The report recommends that the government should prepare for next full spending review by reviewing the actual cost of providing special educational need services.
Lorraine Heugh, of Robertsbridge, East Sussex, is among the parents that instructed Irwin Mitchell.
Her son Nico Heugh Simone, 16, has autism, anxiety and other related conditions.
This means he requires special educational care to remain in mainstream school, yet his family has repeatedly faced issues with East Sussex County Council refusing to meet the full cost of his requirements.
Lorraine, 57, said after today’s hearing: “We are understandably disappointed by the ruling. We campaigned for months on this issue and still believe that not only our children, but thousands of other children across the country are being failed by the current system.
“Although the ruling may not have found in our favour we will not stop campaigning for change. We urge the government to ensure the extra money it has promised for SEND pupils finds its way to them and we hope that the ongoing reviews come back with firm proposals on how to improve services.
“We are not asking for preferential treatment, we just want children to have the best education they deserve.”
Mary Riddell, of Great Barr, Birmingham, also instructed Irwin Mitchell.
Her daughter Dakota Riddell, nine, has a host of conditions including cerebral palsy, global development delay and muscle disorders clonus and dystonia. She has extensive needs and while an educational healthcare plan was drawn up in 2016, it was not updated for three years despite changes in the level of support she requires.
Mary, 35, added: “It was an honour and a pleasure to campaign with parent carers across the UK and fight for what our children deserve.
“Although we welcome the extra funding and the review of SEND I am obviously disappointed in the result. I will continue to fight for what I believe is right and what our children deserve.
“On behalf of the parents I would also like to thank all those who supported us during the case. The messages of support we received meant so much to us. The stories we heard of how other children have also been affected by SEND funding vindicated our decision and now make us determined to continue to push for improvements.”
For more information on the government’s pledge to spend an additional £700 million on education visit:
The National Audit Office’s report can be found at:
For more on the cross party review into SEND visit: