Are local authority special educational needs cuts unlawful?
A recent Government Report in January 2018 has shown that the number of pupils with special educational needs (SEN) has increased for a second consecutive year from 1,244,255 in January 2017 to 1,276,215 in January 2018, an increase from 14.4% to 14.6% of pupils. It therefore comes with little surprise that recent SEN cuts by numerous local authorities are being met by uproar from parents.
Funding in schools is also a well-known issue, and therefore many argue that pupils with SEN are not allocated a sufficient amount of funding.
A group of families have chosen to pursue judicial review against the London Borough of Hackney. Judicial review can be sought to challenge the lawfulness of a decision made by a public body. The decision made by Hackney Borough Council was to split the SEN funding into five bands through a "Resource Policy". The amounts in each band were then reduced by 5% and the format of the Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) were changed. The effect of the 5% cuts would result in the current spending being reduced by over £300,000. There is concern by relatives that SEND budgets are becoming an "easy target" for local authorities to cut. The Claimants argue that these changes were made without any consultation with the families of the children affected, and that they also do not offer sufficient flexibility to ensure sufficient funding is provided for each child. As a result, there is concern that children with SEN will not receive the funding that they are legally entitled to receive.
The council on the other hand contend that there is no prejudice to the claimants arising from the policies. They state that they recognises that they need to make the full SEND provision in each individual child's plan
The two-day hearing commenced on Wednesday 31st October and is being heard in the High Court by Justice Supperstone. The ruling is to be reserved for a later date. They also state that the 5% cut can be absorbed by schools without compromising provision.
This is not restricted to Hackney Borough Council. Surrey County Council is also subject to judicial review for SEN funding cuts, which is awaiting judgment. Another crowd-funding campaign has also been launched to challenge SEN spending in Portsmouth.