Parents win support case

21st July 2006 at 01:00
An Argyll family has won the first legal test case under the Additional Support for Learning Act, which came into force in November last year.

Johanne Sim, whose son Josh had a record of needs at his primary in Tighnabruaich, can now send him to Tarbert Academy on subsidised travel.

The usual secondary for the village is Dunoon Grammar, but the far smaller and more intimate Tarbert is only seven miles from home with a ferry crossing, as opposed to 30 miles of single-track road to Dunoon.

Mrs Sim's placing request was accepted but Argyll and Bute Council declined to pay transport costs of up to pound;30 a day, including the Ca* Mac ferry crossing.

With support from the Govan Law Centre in Glasgow, she went to the Court of Session in Edinburgh. Judges overturned Argyll's ruling and declared it in breach of section 30 of the act by failing to offer transport for Josh.

Iain Nisbet, solicitor for Mrs Sim, said: "This judgment shows that the act, and the protections for children with records of need in particular, is working as it should. Parents and pupils should be made aware that these important protections exist. Education authorities need to be careful when altering provision for pupils with records of need, or face legal challenge to their actions - which may be costly and inconvenient."

Mr Nisbet said a transitional system remains in place to ensure that a child's additional support needs are "no less than" the provision made for special needs when the act came into force.

Mrs Sim said she had fought the council for more than a year. "It would not listen to me. It did not answer my letters and did not want anything to do with me."

But she insists the issue is wider than where her son goes to school. With other parents she has launched a petition to allow all families in Tighnabruaich the choice of Tarbert or Dunoon. "In the past eight years, the primary school roll has dropped from 90 to the low 30s and the reason is that parents do not want their children to travel to Dunoon on treacherous single-track roads," she said.

A spokeswoman for Argyll and Bute said: "The judgment related exclusively to a specific matter under the Additional Support for Learning Act, that is section 30(4), which deals with transitional arrangements for pupils who formerly had records of needs."

It is believed the authority is considering an appeal.

* While Mrs Sim is the first to go to the Court of Session, the new additional support needs tribunals have dealt with 13 complaints from parents, some of which involve placing requests.

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