Q A parent wants to bring an action against our school for failing to provide an education appropriate to his son's special needs. Could he succeed?
AThis is a difficult legal area. The school could be held responsible for both the diagnosis of and provision for special educational needs. In an important judgment in a 1995 case against Bedfordshire County Council, Lord Browne-Wilkinson said: "In my judgement a school which accepts a pupil assumes responsibility not only for his physical well-being but also for his educational needs. The education of the pupil is the very purpose for which the child goes to the school. The headteacher, being responsible for the school, comes under the duty of care to exercise the reasonable skills of a headteacher in relation to such educational needs."
This seems to hand the case to the parent, but the judge said "reasonable skills" were what might be expected of a reasonable headteacher, which is interpreted in terms of what might reasonably be asked from anyone holding a similar position. Lord Browne-Wilkinson made it clear that one could not expect from a headteacher the same level of skill in diagnosing dyslexia, the subject of his case, as one might of an educational psychologist. Presumably this applies equally to other areas of disability.
The litigious parent's probability of success will depend on the facts and whether he or she can argue successfully that the school failed to carry out its reasonable duty. If the pupil had been statemented, the issue is clarified to the extent that the nature of the provision was specified in the statement. If not, the issue is less clear-cut.
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