Landmark case sees Government in court over special educational needs funding

Parents of children with special educational needs are bringing a landmark High Court challenge against the Government over funding cuts to local authorities.

The families bringing the legal action say the Government is leaving councils across the country unable to fulfil their legal obligation of providing education to children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send).

Three families, from North Yorkshire, Birmingham and East Sussex, will argue the Government’s approach to funding Send is unlawful.

Anne-Marie Irwin, the lawyer and public law specialist at law firm Irwin Mitchell – who is representing the families, said the case is the first time the Government has been taken to court over Send funding.

She said: “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.”

The families are calling on Education Secretary Damian Hinds and Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond to increase funding to local authorities.

The case is being brought by the families of 15-year-old Nico Heugh Simone (pictured, right), from Robertsbridge, East Sussex; nine-year-old Dakota Riddell, of Birmingham, west Midlands; and 14-year-old Benedict McFinnigan, from Scarborough, North Yorkshire.

The families are being supported by campaign network Send Action, which will hold a demonstration outside the Royal Courts of Justice ahead of the hearing on Wednesday.

Send Action founder Gillian Doherty 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.”

The case is also being supported by charities Mencap and the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS).

The hearing, before Mr Justice Lewis, is expected to last two days.

The High Court previously rejected cases brought by families of children with special educational needs against Hackney and Surrey councils.

The families bringing legal action against the Government

The case is being brought by the families of 15-year-old Nico Heugh Simone, from Robertsbridge, East Sussex; nine-year-old Dakota Riddell, of Birmingham, West Midlands; and 14-year-old Benedict McFinnigan, from Scarborough, North Yorkshire.

Nico has autism, anxiety and other related conditions which means he needs special educational care to remain in a mainstream school.

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 (Nico) 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.”

Benedict – who has post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and chronic insomnia – has not been in mainstream school for about two years and currently attends a pupil referral unit for less than three hours a day.

His mother Kirsty McFinngan, 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 has a host of conditions including cerebral palsy and global development delay, and her mother Mary Riddell has struggled to get her the level of support she needs.

Ms Riddell 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.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Family handout / Irwin Mitchell LLP / PA Wire.