Families Instruct Irwin Mitchell To Bring Legal Action
Families challenging the government’s approach to special educational needs funding are gearing up for a landmark case in the High Court.
The parents believe that central government is 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.”
Now, the families – from North Yorkshire, Birmingham and East Sussex – are preparing to head to the High Court for a hearing on 26 June, which is listed for two days. The families are also being supported by the campaign network SEND Action.
Expert Opinion“The issue of funding for special educational needs is a major one at present and is something that we have been contacted about on many occasions in recent years but this is the first time that the government have been taken to court over its decisions on SEND funding.
“So many families are desperate to know that their children will be able to get the support they require to access an education, yet so many councils at the moment are resorting to budget cuts, which puts that under serious threat.
“Our clients in this case simply feel that enough is enough and want the government to reconsider the level of support it is providing to local authorities on the issue of special educational needs.” Anne-Marie Irwin - Senior Associate Solicitor
The families are calling on Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, to increase funding to local authorities.
The hearing will examine whether the government’s decisions about SEND funding have been lawful. If the High Court finds that the government is acting unlawfully, the government would be forced to rethink its approach to funding for SEND.
Ahead of the hearing SEND Action members and supporters will be holding an event supported by disability charities and education unions outside the Royal Courts of Justice between 9am and 10am on Wednesday in support of the families.
Gillian Doherty, founder of SEND Action, said: “The message to Philip Hammond, to Damian Hinds and to our next Prime Minister couldn’t be clearer: they must take urgent action to provide the support disabled children need and to which they have a legal right.
“This is the 21st century, in one of the richest countries in the world. Our children are being failed by a system in a tailspin. It’s appalling that parents have had to take their own government to court to try to resolve this crisis.”
Charities Mencap and the National Deaf Children’s Society are supporting the case.
Ciara Lawrence, campaigns support officer at learning disability charity Mencap who has a learning disability, said: “I know from personal experience the big difference that the right special educational needs support makes for children with a learning disability. Until I was 10 I was thought of as ‘naughty’ or ‘lazy’ because I couldn’t engage. As soon as my needs were recognised and the right support put in place, I flourished and was able to enjoy school and pass my exams.
“I’m now happily married and in fulltime employment. I dread to think what would have happened if the support hadn’t been there – who knows where I’d be now?
“There has been an increase in the number of children and young people with a learning disability and it is clear that some children are falling through the gaps. Currently, the special education needs and disability system lacks the proper funding required to meet every child’s needs. Every child should be able to access the appropriate education, health and social care support to meet their needs.”
Jo Campion, who leads NDCS’ campaign against cuts, said: “The situation is becoming completely intolerable for families across the country. Funding is being cut year-on-year and the specialist teachers these children rely on have been savagely cut back. As a result, deaf children’s grades are unsurprisingly far below where they should be.
“This needs to be a massive wake-up call for the government. They need to act immediately to stop this crisis spiralling out of control. If they don’t, an entire generation of disabled children will have their futures stolen from them.”
Jenni Richards QC and Katherine Barnes of 39 Essex Chambers and Stephen Broach of Monckton Chambers are instructed to represent the families in court.
Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in handling SEND cases
Among those that Irwin Mitchell are representing is the family of Nico Heugh Simone. The 15-year-old from Robertsbridge, 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.
His mother Lorraine Heugh, 57, said: “All children with special educational needs deserve to be given the same opportunities as their peers, yet we have faced numerous issues trying to ensure he can get the support he needs.
“We feel like we have been left with no choice but to take this action. We are hopeful the High Court will recognise the national emergency that is being created by the lack of SEND funding and order action to be taken to redress this issue.”
The family of Benedict McFinnigan, 14, from Scarborough, have also faced issues with accessing support. The teenager has post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and chronic insomnia, but was initially refused an education healthcare assessment by North Yorkshire County Council.
In addition, Benedict has not been in mainstream school for around two years and is now attending a pupil referral unit for less than three hours a day.
His mother Kirsty, 40, said: “So many councils across the country are struggling and it is shocking to think the government has simply taken no action at all – the current situation is just not working.
“We feel this issue is being caused at the top and are determined to ensure the Government is held to account on sorting it out. All we want is for all children to have the education they are entitled to.”
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 been updated for three years despite changes in the level of support she requires.
The plan was eventually amended but her mother Mary was stunned to see it featured errors. In addition, travel support which ensured Dakota could get to school has been withdrawn based on information on the previous document.
Mary, 35, of Great Barr, said: “The situation as it is cannot continue or else Dakota and a huge number of other vulnerable children will ultimately lose out.
“We feel like our concerns have been repeatedly ignored on this issue and we hope this action will ensure the Government finally sits up and pays attention.”