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SEND funding cuts trigger wave of legal action

Parents crowdfunding legal case believe 'thousands' of pupils with special needs are not getting the support they need

Wave of legal action is taking place over SEND funding

A wave of legal action is being planned to fight cuts to budgets for pupils with special educational needs,  with parents warning of “a national crisis”.

A group of families intend to begin a battle with education secretary Damian Hinds and chancellor Philip Hammond to increase funding to local authorities.

Five councils could be, or are, already involved in legal action on the issue, but parents are also considering specific action against Mr Hinds.

Last month, successful legal action in Bristol led to a High Court judgment barring the city council from slashing £5 million from its budget for "high needs" pupils.

The case was brought by families who argued that the funding cuts would affect vulnerable children, and that the council had not carried out a proper consultation. 

It was predicted that the ruling would trigger legal challenges against local authority spending cuts across the country.

A judicial review to decide the legality of Surrey County Council’s proposals to slash £20m from services for disabled children is due to be heard in the High Court next month.

A similar hearing into Hackney Council’s plans is scheduled to start at the end of October.

Now, families of two boys who have special educational needs have launched a crowdfunding campaign for a legal challenge of the government’s spending on SEND.

The group, calling itself SEND Family Action, which includes parents from North Yorkshire and East Sussex, is insisting that central government has overall responsibility for funding levels.

The crowdfunding appeal aims to raise £5,000 by 25 October to cover initial legal costs.

The group said: "Special-needs funding is in crisis. Local authorities are failing to meet statutory responsibilities to disabled children. Ultimately, central government bears responsibility for this, which is why we are exploring legal action against the secretary of state for education.

"We are crowdfunding to raise funds for initial legal costs, including obtaining advice from our legal team, investigative work in relation to our claim and pre-action letters."

Minister for children and families, Nadhim Zahawi, said: “Our ambition for children with special educational needs and disabilities is exactly the same [as] for every other child – to achieve well in school and college, find employment and go on to live happy and fulfilled lives.

"We have introduced education, health and care plans, putting families at the heart of the process and providing support tailored to individual needs. Our externally led exclusions review is looking at why some children are more likely to be excluded from school, including those with SEND. 

"But we recognise there are pressures on high-needs budgets due to increasing costs. Core schools funding is increasing to £43.5 billion by 2020 – 50 per cent more per pupil in real terms than in 2000. Included in that total, the national high-needs budget for children and young people with more complex SEND is £6bn this year – the highest on record, and up from £5bn in 2013.”

The group has consulted lawyers at Irwin Mitchell and barrister Stephen Broach, of Monckton Chambers.

Anne-Marie Irwin, public law and human rights lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: “The issue of councils [not] being able to fund specialist services is a growing problem [giving rise to] concern that an increasing number of local authorities are failing to meet their statutory responsibilities to disabled children.

“The families are concerned that local authorities are not receiving enough funding, so wish to investigate whether there are legal grounds to challenge the government over its funding support.

"They believe that thousands of children across the UK with special educational needs are currently unable to receive the support that they need.”

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