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Court bid on special needs spending fails

A child who needs speech and language therapy has failed to overturn a controversial procedure for controlling the money spent on special educational needs. Local authorities are now using predetermined criteria for triggering assessments of pupils and for deciding their treatment.

But the policy, encouraged by the Government and the Audit Commission, was under threat in the High Court this week, as a child from Cumbria claimed that it undermines the basis of the 1981 Education Act. Individual needs, it was claimed, are not catered for: children are put into categories determined by financial need.

The child, who cannot be identified, was given a statement which placed him in a Pounds 6,000 band "which should meet all his needs". While criticising the statement that the child received, the judge upheld Cumbria's right to allocate money according to clear criteria.

"They're reversing one of the major steps forward in thinking about special needs," said John Wright of the Independent Panel for Special Education Advice, who helped prepare the case. "We must think about children as individuals with individual needs rather than as categories."

He claimed parents are suffering because LEAs explain children's needs in terms of an administrative category - "matrix 3A, for example" - rather than in the detail envisaged in the 1981 Act.

Steve Colwill, president of the Association of Educational Psychologists, said: " Nowhere are we asked to produce the absolute best for children. We must have regard for efficient use of resources."

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