Waltham Forest Council must not cut funding for special needs education or it will “inevitably” fail its legal duties to children, the High Court heard today.

The council’s cabinet voted on March 19 to cut top-up Special Education Needs and Disability (SEND) funding by 10 per cent for students in the lowest two bands of need from September 1.

Today was the first day of a judicial review aiming to overturn the decision, brought on behalf of two affected children and supported by campaign group Waltham Forest SEND Crisis.

The council has long argued the decision is difficult but necessary, both to allow an overhaul of funding and plug a £5.3 million budget gap, and claims schools can apply to have each student’s needs reviewed if the cut makes their support inadequate.

However, opposed parents insist applying for extra funding is a delayed and difficult process and that any gap in support putting pressure on schools could result in their children being excluded from mainstream education.

A total of 1,374 children will see their funding reduced if the change goes ahead. Councils have a legal duty to provide whatever special educational support each child needs.

Read more: Waltham Forest Council to cut funding for special needs education

Lawyer David Wolfe told the court that the council’s decision was unlawful because the process to review funding is “fundamentally broken, not least because it involves significant, unchallenged delays”.

He added: “The cabinet’s decision relied for its legality on a safety mechanism that’s ineffective. As a result of its decision children will be unsecured for potentially significant periods.”

Legal firm Irwin Mitchell brought the case on behalf of two Waltham Forest children, aged six and nine, who both have special educational needs, attend a mainstream school and cannot be named for legal reasons.

Witness statements from the mothers of both children described how difficulties correcting insufficient funding had already affected their children’s support.

The six-year-old’s mother said it took “almost a year for his funding to be increased”, while the mother of the nine-year-old said her school’s request for more funding is still being processed.

Lawyer David Wolfe also referenced comments from the head teacher of the mainstream school that takes the largest number of children with special educational needs in the borough.

Jennifer Smith, headteacher of the Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow, said the process of applying for additional funding was “cumbersome and unclear”, adding it could sometimes be “several months” before the school received sufficient funding.

The council's case so far

Waltham Forest Council’s lawyer, Peter Oldham, who will finish making its case tomorrow, said the council’s decision to cut funding was “difficult” but “nonetheless perfectly lawful”.

He insisted it was “a mischaracterisation of the decision to say it was only taken with a view to saving money”, explained the council also plans to completely review the funding ladder.

He added that councillors “have to make judgements about how to share out precious resources and face the practical consequences of those decisions”.

Regarding alleged problems with the review process, he contested the length of the delay in the six-year-old’s case, stating the council was not initially informed of the need for a review.

He added that “one would expect some time to be taken” over decisions involving large sums of public money.

A report presented to the cabinet in March 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 continue tomorrow.

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