A lawyer acting for families of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) says a High Court case beginning today could force the government into a funding rethink.
Anne-Marie Irwin, a specialist public law and human rights lawyer at the firm Irwin Mitchell, is representing three families who are challenging the government’s SEND funding policies.
“If we are successful today, we will have a declaration from the court that government has acted unlawfully in relation to SEND funding,” Ms Irwin told Tes.
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“That will mean that the government will have to rethink the way it takes decisions in relation to SEND funding, and we hope, ultimately, it will lead to additional funding for SEND, particularly at the spending review, which we are told is due to take place later this year.”
The High Court is due to hear the case today and tomorrow.
Ms Irwin said: “We are arguing today that the government has acted unlawfully when it’s taken its decisions in relation to SEND. So we say that when they extended SEND provision to the age of 25 from the age of 18, they didn’t allocate sufficient funding to meet that additional need and we say that’s irrational and government has a duty to take their decisions in a rational way.
SEND funding battle
“We also say that the government is discriminating against children with SEND in breach of Human Rights Act and that they are failing to promote equality of opportunity for children with SEND in accordance with the Equality Act.”
Lorraine Heugh, mother of a 15-year-old who has autism, is one of the parents involved in the case. She was at the court today and spoke to Tes before the hearing. She said children with SEND are not getting equal access to education.
She said her message to central government was that they needed to listen to local authorities, parents and charities.
“We’re all saying the same thing: there isn’t enough money, the system is failing the children, and we need to do something about this,” Ms Heugh said.
Representatives from campaign group SEND Action, the National Deaf Children’s Society, the Alliance for Inclusive Education, the Disabled Children’s Partnership and the NEU teaching union took part in a rally outside the court.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The government’s ambition for children with special educational needs and disabilities is no different to any other child – we want them to enjoy school and achieve to their full potential.
"This is why we are investing significant funding into supporting those with more complex special educational needs – high-needs funding totalling £6.3 billion this year.
“It would be inappropriate to comment further until the judicial process has concluded.”