Robertsbridge family join High Court challenge over special needs funding

Lorraine Heugh and son Nico, from Robertsbridge
Lorraine Heugh and son Nico, from Robertsbridge

A family from Robertsbridge has joined others across the country in a High Court legal challenge against the government’s special education needs funding policy which is leaving “thousands of children across the country in limbo”.

Irwin Mitchell’s specialist Public Law and Human Rights team is acting for a number of families who believe that their children, who have an array of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), are not receiving the essential support they require.

The legal experts have now asked the High Court to give the green light for a Judicial Review to be held into the legality of how the government provides funding to local authorities.

The families believe that current government grants are leaving councils without enough money to fulfil their legal obligation of providing care for pupils with a range of disabilities and conditions.

The application comes after education watchdog Ofsted said earlier this month that it was a “national scandal” that thousands of children in England diagnosed with special educational needs were missing out on support. Following a recent announcement that the Department for Education had pledged an additional £350 million for SEND funding, Ofsted added there was still “a long way to go” before children with specialist needs receive “the support they deserve.”

Nico Heugh Simone, 15, from Robertsbridge, has autism, anxiety and related conditions which means he requires specialist educational care to remain in a mainstream school.

When he started secondary school in September 2014, East Sussex County Council would not meet the total cost of his care, arguing the school should pay the shortfall out of its budget.

However, following protracted correspondence between the school and the local authority, and complaints made by Nico’s mother, the local authority agreed to meet the full cost of care. The following year, the local authority again refused to meet the cost of Nico’s care. Nico’s mother instructed solicitors to send a pre-action letter to the local authority threatening judicial review, and the local authority then agreed to pay for the cost of Nico’s support.

However, the following year the school was advised by the local authority that a new scoring system would see Nico’s funding reduced.

This has seen the money the school receives from East Sussex County Council for Nico reduced by half. However, the cost of the care he needs has remained the same. The school has agreed, reluctantly, to absorb the significant additional cost, however they have told Nico’s mum that they will not be able to sustain this long-term.

Nico’s mum, Lorraine Heugh, 57, said: “Nico is at a critical time in his education and instead of helping him concentrate on his exams it just feels that we are in a constant battle with the council for him to get the education he deserves.

“We cannot fault Nico’s school and the care and support he receives not only from staff but also his friends.

“It would be great if the government realised the national crisis it has created and amended its funding policy. But we feel that our concerns have been ignored so far, that is why we feel we have no option but to seek a judicial review.”

The families have launched a campaign group called SEND Action. The group is calling on Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, to increase funding to local authorities.

The families have raised funds through an online crowdfunding campaign and have been granted legal aid to bring the challenge.