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(UK) East Sussex: Parents suing over govt's failure to fund SPED

Mar 16, 2019, Guardian: [Sussex] ‘Our children deserve better’: parents win judicial review of special needs spending Families claim shortfall in government funding is illegal, as schools struggle to pay for support services Nico Heugh Simone, 15, has autism, anxiety, and sensory and communication difficulties, which means he requires specialist help to attend mainstream school. But his family has struggled for six years to get his local authority to fund the cost of his education at his local state school. “Navigating the education system for children with special needs is soul-destroying,” said his mother, Lorraine Heugh, 57, from Robertsbridge, East Sussex. “These children deserve better.” Her fight to get Nico an education has taken its toll on her health and “many, many times” over the years she has sat down and cried about the lack of support for her son. She is now battling to prove that the government is unlawfully underfunding the education of children with special educational needs and disabilities(SEND), and earlier this month, along with two other families, won the right to have the government’s funding policy examined in a landmark judicial review in June. Lawyers for the families say the two-day high court hearing will determine whether the level of government SEND funding is unlawful because, they argue, it leaves councils without enough money to fulfil their legal obligation of providing an education for pupils with a range of disabilities and conditions. The decision comes amid mounting pressure for increased funding for schools, as angry headteachers speak out about the impact of austerity cuts. Some schools have warned they will have to close at lunchtime on Fridays, while others have revealed they are asking teachers to act as cleaners. … In Nico’s case, East Sussex county council now covers only half of the cost of the support he needs; his school has to pay for the remainder or disrupt his education. “Rather than funding his care according to his education, health and care plan, the local authority is funding his care according to their own matrix, saying that’s the maximum funding you can get for that type of disability,” said Heugh. She is a member of SEND Action, a national network of families committed to upholding their legal rights. “I am able to fight for my son but there are many parents who are not able to. Their children are not receiving the correct level of provision at school, or are being excluded altogether and losing their education. It’s frustrating, because children with SEND are capable of achieving so much with the right kind of support. I know my son is.” In December the education watchdog Ofsted said education provision for children with SEND was “disjointed” and “inconsistent”, and that in 2018 more than 2,000 of the most needy pupils missed out on the support to which they were entitled – a number that has tripled since 2010. The school leaders’ union NAHT has reported that only 2% of headteachers feel they receive sufficient funding for pupils with SEND. Irwin Mitchell will argue that the government has been acting unlawfully since the 2014 Children and Families Act extended special education needs provision from 18 to 25 years, increasing the numbers entitled to funding. “We couldn’t find any evidence that the funding had increased,” said solicitor Anne-Marie Irwin. “Public bodies are required to act in a rational manner. It’s irrational to include in the act a whole raft of new [people] who need support, and not allocate money to fund that.” A report last December by the Local Government Association showed that demand for services for children and young people with SEND rose by 35% between 2014 and 2018, and that this academic year, 93 local authorities expect their spending on children with high needs will be underfunded to the tune of £287m [$380M US dollars]. Increased post-16 responsibility was the single most commonly cited factor contributing to the growth in high needs spending by local authorities. Last week the government announced that it was creating 3,500 additional school places for children with complex needs such as autism, severe learning difficulties and mental health conditions. In total, 37 new special free schools will be provided. SEND Action cautiously welcomed the news but said it was not nearly enough. “It focuses entirely on specialist placements,” said spokesperson Gillian Doherty. “Disabled children have the right to be educated in mainstream schools and to access high-quality specialist support.” A DfE spokesperson said it was investing £6.1bn [$8.1B US dollars] in complex needs provision in 2018-19. “Our ambition for children with SEND is no different from any other child – we want them to enjoy school and achieve as highly as possible. This is why we are investing significant funding into special educational needs units attached to mainstream schools.” She added that it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the high court hearing until the judicial process is concluded.


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