Robertsbridge family’s 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 is joining others from across the country in a landmark High Court case this week.

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

Nico’s family and other parents believe that central government is 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 High Court hearing starts on Wednesday (June 26) and is listed for two days.

Nico requires special educational care to remain in mainstream school. His family claim it has repeatedly faced issues with East Sussex County Council refusing to meet the full cost of his requirements.

His mother Lorraine Heugh, 57, said: “All children with special educational needs deserve to be given the same opportunities as their peers, yet we have faced numerous issues trying to ensure he can get the support he needs.

“We feel like we have been left with no choice but to take this action. We are hopeful the High Court will recognise the national emergency that is being created by the lack of SEND funding and order action to be taken to redress this issue.”

The families are also being supported by the campaign network SEND Action.

Anne-Marie Irwin, lawyer and public law specialist at Irwin Mitchell, who is acting for the families, said: “The issue of funding for special educational needs is a major one at present and is something that we have been contacted about on many occasions in recent years but this is the first time the Government has been taken to court over its decisions on SEND funding.

“So many families are desperate to know their children will be able to get the support they require to access an education, yet so many councils at the moment are resorting to budget cuts, which puts that under serious threat.

“Our clients in this case simply feel that enough is enough and want the Government to reconsider the level of support it is providing to local authorities on the issue of special educational needs.”

The families are calling on Education Secretary Damian Hinds and Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond to increase funding to local authorities.

The hearing will examine whether the Government’s decisions about SEND funding have been lawful.

If the High Court finds the Government is acting unlawfully, it would be forced to rethink its approach to funding for SEND.

SEND Action members and supporters will be holding an event supported by disability charities and education unions outside the Royal Courts of Justice between 9am and 10am on Wednesday in support of the families.

Gillian Doherty, founder of SEND Action, said: “The message to Philip Hammond, to Damian Hinds and to our next Prime Minister couldn’t be clearer: they must take urgent action to provide the support disabled children need and to which they have a legal right.

“This is the 21st century, in one of the richest countries in the world. Our children are being failed by a system in a tailspin. It’s appalling that parents have had to take their own government to court to try to resolve this crisis.”

Charities Mencap and the National Deaf Children’s Society are supporting the case.

Ciara Lawrence, campaigns support officer at learning disability charity Mencap who has a learning disability, said: “I know from personal experience the big difference that the right special educational needs support makes for children with a learning disability.

“Until I was 10 I was thought of as ‘naughty’ or ‘lazy’ because I couldn’t engage. As soon as my needs were recognised and the right support put in place, I flourished and was able to enjoy school and pass my exams.

“I’m now happily married and in full-time employment. I dread to think what would have happened if the support hadn’t been there – who knows where I’d be now?

“There has been an increase in the number of children and young people with a learning disability and it is clear that some children are falling through the gaps.

“Currently, the special education needs and disability system lacks the proper funding required to meet every child’s needs. Every child should be able to access the appropriate education, health and social care support to meet their needs.”

Jo Campion, who leads NDCS’ campaign against cuts, said: “The situation is becoming completely intolerable for families across the country. Funding is being cut year-on-year and the specialist teachers these children rely on have been savagely cut back. As a result, deaf children’s grades are unsurprisingly far below where they should be.

“This needs to be a massive wake-up call for the Government. They need to act immediately to stop this crisis spiralling out of control. If they don’t, an entire generation of disabled children will have their futures stolen from them.”

Jenni Richards QC, and Katherine Barnes, of 39 Essex Chambers, and Stephen Broach, of Monckton Chambers, are instructed to represent the families in court.