Robertsbridge family loses High Court challenge for special education funding

Nico Heugh Simone and his mum, Lorraine SUS-190624-144529001
Nico Heugh Simone and his mum, Lorraine SUS-190624-144529001

A family from Robertsbridge has lost a landmark legal challenge against the Government over special educational needs funding.

The family of 15-year-old Nico Heugh Simone, who has autism, anxiety and other related conditions, was one of three that took the Government to the High Court to challenge its special education needs (SEND) funding policy.

Nico’s family, together with one from North Yorkshire and one from Birmingham, had launched the landmark legal case calling on ministers to increase the amount of funding councils receive.

They believed that government budget decisions were leaving local authorities across the country unable to fulfil their legal obligation of providing education to children with special educational needs and disabilities, or SEND.

The families had instructed public law and human rights lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to bring the case.

A two-day hearing was held in the High Court in June.

In a judgment today (Monday, October 7) the court found the families had an arguable case, but ruled the Government did not act unlawfully in the particular circumstances of this case.

Anne-Marie Irwin, specialist lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing the families, said after today’s hearing: “The decision to take this case to the High Court was not taken lightly.

“The hearing was held in June after the High Court deemed this to be an important issue which needed to be thoroughly examined by the court. We believe that it was the first time that the High Court has granted permission for a legal challenge against a government budget decision.

“We feel we put forward very strong legal arguments on behalf of the families that the decisions taken about SEND funding were so inadequate as to make them unlawful. We and the families are disappointed by today’s decision but thank the court for hearing the case.

“How SEND services are funded is still an incredibly important issue, affecting tens of thousands of families, and one that needs addressing.

“We welcome the announcements that were made after June’s hearing pledging additional government money for SEND and for a review of the SEND system. However, our clients believe that there is still a long way to go.

“It is vital that action is now taken to ensure children benefit from these pledges so young people with SEND can access the education they are entitled to.”

Nico’s mum, Lorraine Heugh, 57, said: “We are understandably disappointed by the ruling.

“We campaigned for months on this issue and still believe that not only our children, but thousands of other children across the country are being failed by the current system.

“Although the ruling may not have found in our favour we will not stop campaigning for change.

“We urge the Government to ensure the extra money it has promised for SEND pupils finds its way to them and we hope that the ongoing reviews come back with firm proposals on how to improve services.

“We are not asking for preferential treatment, we just want children to have the best education they deserve.”

In the September spending round the Government said it would provide an additional £700 million in 2020/21 for pupils ‘with the most complex needs’ and in the same month announced the start of a cross-party review into special educational needs and disability and how the law is working in practice.

Last month the National Audit Office also published a report entitled Support For Pupils With Special Educational Needs and Disabilities in England.

The report recommends the Government should prepare for next full spending review by reviewing the actual cost of providing special educational need services.

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