Scarborough family takes Government to High Court over funding for special education needs

A Scarborough family is challenging the legality of how the government distributes funding for special education needs.
A Scarborough family is challenging the legality of how the government distributes funding for special education needs.

A Scarborough family is taking the government to the High Court to challenge the way education for children with special needs is funded.

Benedict McFinnigan, from Scarborough, has been diagnosed as having post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and chronic insomnia.

The 14-year-old was refused an education healthcare assessment by North Yorkshire County Council because the local authority said he did not meet its criteria for having special educational needs. The family appealed the refusal and last year North Yorkshire County Council agreed to assess Benedict for an EHCP.

However, Benedict has not attended a mainstream school for two years and was taught at home. Benedict, who has a three-year-old brother Brian, is currently attending a pupil referral unit for less than three hours a day.

His mum Kirsty, 40, a full time carer for her children, said: “Sadly the government seems totally oblivious to the national crisis it has created. You only have to see the number of councils across different parts of the country that are all struggling to fund SEND [special education needs] services to see the current situation is not working.

“The next few years are going to be key in determining Ben’s life chances but yet we have to find ourselves in this situation fighting every step of the way for a basic education.

“If families across the country are all facing similar issues it cannot be the fault of councils. This is a problem being created from the very top so it should be sorted from the top.”

Campaigners across the country and families with special needs children instructed specialist lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to issue a Judicial Review into the legality of how the government provides funding to local authorities.

After considering extensive submissions and evidence, a judge has now ordered that the case needs to be heard at a full two-day hearing in the High Court, listed for 26 and 27 June.

This will examine whether the government’s current level of funding for SEND is lawful. If the High Court finds that the government is acting unlawfully, the government would be forced to rethink its approach to funding for SEND.

Anne-Marie Irwin, specialist public law and human rights lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: “How special education needs services are funded is an issue which is continuing to snowball. This is especially the case at a time when many local authorities are setting their budgets for the next financial year in the face of continued budget cuts.

“We continue to hear very concerning accounts from families who say thousands of children in towns and cities across the country are not receiving the education they deserve because of government policy.

“The families feel that there have been left with no choice but to bring this action and are pleased that the High Court recognises that SEND funding is an issue which needs to be looked at urgently in detail.

“While we are prepared to put forward strong legal arguments in court on behalf of the families, we would rather the government re-examine its position and come up with a solution which will benefit families nationally."

Families, including Benedict's, have launched a campaign group called SEND Action. They are calling on Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, to increase funding to local authorities.

Last year education watchdog Ofsted said that it was a “national scandal” that thousands of children in England diagnosed with special educational needs were missing out on support. Shortly afterwards the Department for Education pledged an additional £350 million for SEND funding.

However, in response Ofsted added there was still “a long way to go” before children with specialist needs received “the support they deserve.”