Families launch campaign to legally challenge Government’s special needs funding

Campaigners said councils did not have enough money to fulfil their legal obligation to provide care for pupils with a range of disabilities and conditions (Dave Thompson/PA) Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

The families of two schoolboys with special educational needs are seeking to legally challenge the Government over its SEND funding policy.

They say the current Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) policy has a created a “national crisis” and are calling on Education Secretary Damian Hinds and Chancellor Philip Hammond to increase funding to local authorities.

The group, calling itself SEND Family Action - which is in no way related to or associated with the registered charity Family Action - argues grants do not leave local authorities with enough money to fulfil their legal obligation to provide care for pupils with a range of disabilities and conditions.

The families, including parents from North Yorkshire and East Sussex, are appealing for donations to enable them to explore whether there are grounds to challenge the Government.

Nico Heugh Simone, from Robertsbridge, has autism, anxiety and related conditions which mean he requires specialist educational care to remain in a mainstream school.

In September 2014, when the 15-year-old started secondary school, he was told it would not be possible to meet the full cost of his care. In subsequent years the money his school received fell.

Nico’s mother, Lorraine Heugh, 57, said: “Nico really enjoys school, he has lots of friends who along with the teachers have been great in helping him progress.

“Nico is at a key stage of his education and his upcoming GCSEs will go a long way to determining his life chances.

“He should be able to concentrate on these but instead we are once again battling for him to receive the support he needs.

“Cuts to SEND budgets are being made across the country. It has got to the point now where this is a national crisis.

“Nico feels strongly about helping to support other children to have access to a good quality education and for schools to be better resourced to support the children.

“Families can’t sit back any longer and watch this unfold. It is obvious that councils do not have enough money because of the funding they receive.”

Lawyer Anne-Marie Irwin from Irwin Mitchell, who is representing the families, said: “The issue of councils being able to fund specialist services is a growing problem, with concern that an increasing number of local authorities are failing to meet their statutory responsibilities to disabled children.

“The families are concerned that local authorities are not receiving enough funding so wish to investigate whether there are legal grounds to challenge the Government over its funding support.

“They believe that thousands of children across the UK with special educational needs are currently unable to receive the support that they need.”

Another family hoping to bring the challenge is that of 14-year-old Benedict McFinnigan.

He has been diagnosed as having post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and chronic insomnia and has not attended a mainstream school for two years.

His mother Kirsty, 40, a full-time carer for her children, said: “We are trying to do the best for Benedict but we are not the experts.

“He deserves to be receiving the best education available like all other children.

“Ben is at a time when he is beginning his GCSE years. His whole future and life chances are being put at stake by his current lack of support to access an equal education.

“It is clear that the number of children with disabilities not being able to receive the help they need is growing.

“If councils and head teachers across the country are telling us they don’t have enough money there is clearly a national problem.”

Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “Our ambition for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is exactly the same for every other child, to achieve well in school and college, find employment and go on to live happy and fulfilled lives.

“We have introduced Education Health and Care plans, putting families at the heart of the process and providing support tailored to individual needs.

“Our externally-led exclusions review is looking at why some children are more likely to be excluded from school, including those with SEND.

“But due to increasing costs, we recognise there are pressures on high needs budgets.”

He added that core schools funding was increasing to £43.5 billion by 2020.

“Included in that total, the national high needs budget for children and young people with more complex SEND is £6 billion this year,” he said.