(UK) Waltham Forest: Court okays SPED funding cut; $7.3M budget gap

Mar 7, 2021, Waltham Forest Echo: Parents lose High Court case over SEND cuts
(Near London) An attempt by Waltham Forest parents to reverse a controversial funding cut for children with special needs has failed. High Court judge Justice Murray rejected the argument that the council’s decision to cut funding last year posed “an unacceptable risk” to more than 1,300 affected children. The council’s cabinet voted last March to cut ‘top-up’ special educational needs and disability (SEND) funding by 10% for students in the lowest two bands of need from 1st September. Campaign group Waltham Forest SEND Crisis, which opposed the cut, raised thousands to launch a judicial review of the decision, heard at the High Court in July 2020. In his long-awaited decision, published last month, Judge Murray wrote: “In my view, it is not arguable that the decision poses an unacceptable risk. … The council argued the decision was difficult but necessary, both to allow an overhaul of funding and plug a £5.3million [$7.3M U.S.] budget gap, and that schools could apply to increase funding if the cut made a child’s support inadequate. However, parents insisted any gap in support would add pressure to already-stretched schools and could result in their children being excluded from mainstream education…. Council lawyer Peter Oldham responded that the decision to cut funding was, while “difficult”, “nonetheless perfectly lawful”. … He ruled that the council “clearly acknowledges” the risk that the cut would leave some children in need of additional funding but “has given reasons why that risk can rationally be addressed”…. They said: “Our view remains that cutting 10 per cent across-the-board from the top-up funding that goes towards supporting SEND children is both unethical and unjust. … “Waltham Forest Council used the court case to stress that children who are currently underfunded will have the opportunity to have their financial support increased accordingly, and in a timely fashion. “Unfortunately, there is no publicly available policy that makes clear exactly how this is to happen. … She said: “At every point we have done our utmost to listen to and work constructively with parents. “Demand for SEND services has increased by 35% in Waltham Forest since 2014. “We have repeatedly lobbied the government to increase the amount of funding they provide… To date this has not happened. “In the meantime, we have taken vital action to safeguard our local SEND services so that we are able to provide for local families who rely on our help.”