Waltham SEND campaigners take budget cuts fight to High Court

Campaigners are taking Waltham Forest Council to the High Court later this month over their decision to cut funding for special needs education.

The cabinet voted on March 19 to reduce top-up Special Education Needs and Disability (SEND) funding by 10 per cent for students in the lowest two bands of need.

The decision was made despite parents’ fear it could lead mainstream schools to exclude their children and a recommendation from the Children and Families Scrutiny committee to delay.

Campaign group Waltham Forest SEND Crisis have followed through on their threat to seek a judicial review, claiming the council’s consultation on the decision was unlawful.

At the cabinet meeting in March, Cllr Grace Williams, responsible for children, young people and families, said the council takes its responsibilities “extremely seriously” but must tackle a £5.3 million deficit.

She said: “We have lobbied the Government extensively and have received additional funding for SEND in the last year, but the number of people we need to support at current funding levels continues to be greater than the amount of funding we receive.

“We cannot continue as we are, so have taken the only option open to us and made the difficult decision to make changes to the way the High Needs Block is allocated.

“The Schools Forum has agreed this is the best course of action and we have consulted extensively on these proposals with parents and schools, deferring the decision for six months to ensure we examined all the options.

“We are confident that our engagement with schools means that all children who currently receive support and those entering the system will receive what they need under these proposals.”

Five parents from Waltham Forest SEND Crisis spoke before the Children and Families Scrutiny Committee on March 12 to oppose the cuts.

Coco Lenik, whose daughter has Down’s Syndrome and is in the second lowest band, said the “just over £15,000” she receives already fails to cover the cost of her support.

She accused the council of “shirking responsibility” by expecting schools to “make up the shortfall”, which she said could mean mainstream schools refuse or exclude special needs students.

“This cut will only segregate our children, who can and do make great progress in mainstream schools if they are allowed”, she said.

“Our children fight enough battles in their lives, they need their borough on their side.”

Ken Barlow told the committee: “Do not kid yourselves that cuts will not mean a reduction in the standards of the current provision.

“My five-year-old son is autistic and is not getting the care he needs. History will judge the decisions you make now.”

A report presented to the committee stated no mainstream school would lose more than one per cent of its funding under the new proposed model.

A band E child’s funding would reduce by £843 in primary school and £714 in secondary school, while a band F child’s funding would reduce by £1,518 in primary school and £1,389 in secondary school.

The case will appear before the High Court on July 29 and 30 and will be broadcast on Skype.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter