Campaigners against cuts to special educational needs and disabilities funding have lost a High Court battle after judges ruled the government did not act unlawfully.
Families representing pupils with SEND announced last September that they were crowdfunding a legal challenge against the then education secretary Damian Hinds and chancellor Philip Hammond, challenging real-terms cuts to high needs funding.
The campaigners claimed government budget decisions were leaving local authorities across the country unable to fulfil their legal obligation of providing education to pupils with SEND.
They met their fundraising target and received permission to proceed to judicial review earlier this year.
But the high court has today ruled the government did not act unlawfully.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Lewis said both Hinds and Hammond “complied with their duty to have due regard” to the equality act when making decisions, and that there was “no breach of the general duty to promote the well-being of children in England”.
“The defendants reached decisions that they were entitled to reach on the material before them and did not act irrationally. There was no unlawful discrimination within the meaning of Article 14 [of the European Convention on Human Rights].”
Anne-Marie Irwin, representing the families, said: “We feel we put forward very strong legal arguments on behalf of the families that the decisions taken about SEND funding were so inadequate as to make them unlawful. We and the families are disappointed by today’s decision but thank the court for hearing the case.
“How SEND services are funded is still an incredibly important issue, affecting tens of thousands of families, and one that needs addressing.
“We welcome the announcements that were made after June’s hearing pledging additional government money for SEND and for a review of the SEND system. However, our clients believe that there is still a long way to go.”
SEND Action, a campaign group that supported the case, said: “It was always going to be a difficult challenge. Three disabled children and their families against the government. Endless pages of redacted documents. The odds were stacked against us.
“But change that’s worth having is worth fighting for. The government has a moral duty to provide sufficient funding to support disabled children and to ensure their human rights are upheld.”
According to the think tank IPPR North, SEND funding has been cut in real terms by 17 per cent in just three years.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the verdict was a “huge blow to the families and children involved in this case, and allows the government to once again shirk its responsibility for these young people by fobbing them off to severely underfunded local authorities”.
“Despite the government’s recent announcement of additional investment in SEND, there is still a £1 billion shortfall in SEND funding which the government must now urgently address.”