Robertsbridge family takes government to court over special education needs funding

Nico and brother Chris
Nico and brother Chris

A family from Robertsbridge will be joining others across the country in taking the government to the High Court to challenge its special education needs (SEND) funding policy.

Campaigners say current government grants are leaving councils without enough money to fulfil their legal obligation of providing education for pupils with a range of disabilities and conditions.

The families instructed lawyers to issue a judicial review into the legality of how the government provides funding to local authorities. The case will be heard in the High Court on June 26-27.

If the court finds the government is acting unlawfully, the government would be forced to rethink its approach to funding for SEND.

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 2014, East Sussex County Council would not meet the total cost of his care, arguing the school should pay the shortfall.

However, following complaints made by Nico’s mother, ESCC agreed to meet the full cost of care.

The following year, the local authority again refused to meet the cost of Nico’s care, but back-tracked after receiving a solicitor’s letter threatening judicial review.

The next 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 ESCC for Nico reduced by half, but the cost of the care he needs has remained the same.

The school agreed to absorb the significant additional cost, but cannot sustain this long-term.

Nico’s mum, Lorraine Heugh, 57, said: “We are not asking for any special treatment, all we want is for Nico and others with SEND to be given the same opportunities as other children.

“Nico is at an important time in his education and yet it just seems like we have to be locked in a constant fight for what he deserves.

“Nico should be allowed to decide if he wants to remain in education, find a job or an apprenticeship after his exams, however, we fear that he is not going to be given the opportunity to decide what path he wants to take.

“We would rather not be in this position but we feel we have been left with no other choice because the government has just ignored us so far.

“We are delighted that the High Court has granted us permission to officially challenge the government.”

Anne-Marie Irwin, a specialist public law and human rights lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, is representing the families.

She said: “How special education needs services are funded is an issue which is continuing to snowball.

“This is especially the case at a time when many local authorities are setting their budgets for the next financial year in the face of continued budget cuts.

“We continue to hear very concerning accounts from families who say thousands of children in towns and cities across the country are not receiving the education they deserve because of government policy.

“The families feel that there have been left with no choice but to bring this action and are pleased that the High Court recognises that SEND funding is an issue which needs to be looked at urgently in detail.

“While we are prepared to put forward strong legal arguments in court on behalf of the families, we would rather the government re-examine its position and come up with a solution which will benefit families nationally.”

The judicial review will examine whether the government’s current level of funding for SEND is lawful.

The families initially raised funds through an online crowdfunding campaign.

They have now been granted legal aid to bring the challenge.