Three families who challenged the Government about its handling of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) funding have lost their case at the High Court, it was announced today.
The court dismissed their claim for a judicial review and ruled there had been no unlawful discrimination.
The legal action was brought by the mothers of three children with SEND, aged between nine and 15, who rely on the Government’s funding.
- Report on SEND from the National Audit Office
- Government funding injection promised in spending round
The campaigners believe Government budget decisions have left local authorities unable to support children with SEND across the country.
Jenni Richards QC, for the families, told the court that Department for Education statistics showed a ‘rising demand’ for SEND funding, which has not been reflected in the increased funding allocated for SEND.
A report from the National Audit Office (NAO) last month corroborated this, showing that while the number of pupils with the greatest needs rose by 10 per cent between 2013/14 and 2017/18, in the same period, funding per pupil dropped by 2.6 per cent in real terms for those with high needs.
SEND reforms were introduced by the Government in 2014 to ensure consistency of provision across the country. This involved the implementation of Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) to help children and young people with SEND better plan for their futures. These reforms are currently under review.
Government lawyers argued the increase in demand has been recognised by ministers and former education secretary Damian Hinds had made it clear that SEND would be high priority ahead of the 2019 spending review.
Last month, the Government pledged £700m extra towards SEND funding in its spending round.
Anne Marie-Irwin, a senior solicitor at Irwin Mitchell who represented the families, said: '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.'
Responses to the verdict
Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: ‘Families of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities have struggled for years against the limitations that cuts to SEND funding have placed on their children’s ability to access education.
‘Today’s verdict is a huge blow to the families and children involved in this case, and allows the government to once again shirk its responsibility for these young people by fobbing them off to severely underfunded local authorities, who do not have the financial capacity to provide the specialist care and provision these families need and deserve.
‘Despite the government’s recent announcement of additional investment in SEND, there is still a £1bn shortfall in SEND funding which the government must now urgently address. The National Education Union will continue to stand in solidarity with SEND Action and fight to ensure that all children with SEND have access to the provision they deserve.’
Jo Campion, Deputy Director at the National Deaf Children's Society, commented:‘Children with special educational needs and disabilities across the country are struggling to get the support they need and they’ve been consistently let down by a chronically under-funded system.
‘This judgement in no way alters the fact that hundreds of thousands of disabled children have seen their support slashed, their specialist teachers cut back and their vital technology withheld. I’ve seen first-hand the heartbreak, stress and immense frustration that has become a daily reality for so many families.
‘The Government’s pledge of an extra £700 million could make real progress towards alleviating the crisis ravaging the SEND system, but until the cheques are signed and the money arrives on the frontline, disabled children across the country will continue be starved of support every single day.’
A Department for Education spokesperson said: ‘No child should be held back from reaching their potential, which is why we recently announced major new high needs funding worth well over £700 million in 2020-21 – an increase of more than 11 per cent on the amount available this year, bringing the total spent on supporting those with the most complex needs to over £7 billion.
‘We have also launched a review of the system to see how it can make further improvements to make sure every child gets the education that is right for them.’