In a move that could have had far reaching implications for special educational needs and disability (SEND) budgets, the High Court has recently ruled that Bristol City Council unlawfully reduced their High Needs budget by £5m in a Judicial Review brought by Brain Injury Group members Simpson Millar Solicitors on behalf of two families affected.

Brain Injury Group members Simpson Millar Solicitors represented families at hearing

Many children who have sustained a brain injury will have special educational needs and it’s important that these children are provided for within our education system so they may achieve their full potential.

Samantha Hale, a Partner at Simpson Millar specialising in Education Law, explains the decision.

What did the Court decide?

The Court decided that the process completed by the Local Authority, prior to deciding to cut the High Needs budget by £5m, was flawed; namely because it failed to consult with those who would be affected by the cuts. In a judgment handed down on the 3rd of August the Court decided that the decision to cut the budget by £5m should not stand, and the Local Authority now has to reconsider the allocation of funding to the High Needs Budget.

Why is the decision important?

This was a Landmark case as it was the first of its kind to be heard against a Local Authority. However, we are aware of similar SEND budget cuts taking place in other areas that are also being contested.

The ruling means that Bristol City Council will now need to properly reconsider the funding allocation, which must include consulting with families who would be affected by any cuts.

Further to that, we are hopeful that other Council’s will take into consideration this decision before determining any cuts and in particular that they consider the criticisms the Court made of the SEND provision in Bristol.

What criticism was made of the SEND Provision?

Although the case was a challenge to the decision to cut the SEND provision in Bristol, evidence was also included on the impact this would have on children and families within the Authority.

The Court concluded that the process completed was flawed, but went further in that it criticised the Authority for the high numbers of exclusions for pupils with SEND which, across primary and secondary schools, is the highest in the country. It also criticised the attainment gap between SEND pupils and their peers.

What does this decision mean for families?

For families in Bristol, it means that the Authority should now be consulting with them as part of the process for deciding what the High Needs budget should be. There is no guarantee that this will lead to an increased budget being agreed. However, we hope that the Local Authority will take into consideration the criticism made of the SEND provision, and that this will lead to improvements to this and the outcomes for children and young people with SEND.

We hope that other Local Authorities also learn from this decision to the benefit of children and young people in their authorities.

Samantha Hale is a Simpson Millar Partner specialising in Education Law. She is based in Simpson Millar’s Bristol office, and represents families across the country.

If you have a child with additional needs and you have concerns about their education, Brain Injury Group have specialist education lawyers who can advise you. Please contact us on 01737 852203 or email [email protected]

 

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If you’ve been affected by brain injury and need free legal or welfare advice, there are several ways to get in touch:

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