Families fighting Hackney Council over special educational needs cuts get High Court date

A huge protest took place outisde Hackney Town Hall. Picture: Melissa Byers

A huge protest took place outisde Hackney Town Hall. Picture: Melissa Byers - Credit: Archant

Four families fighting against “wrecking-ball” cuts to special educational needs services will take on Hackney Council at the High Court in October.

Campaigners made posters ahead of the meeting on Wednesday. Picture: Melissa Byers

Campaigners made posters ahead of the meeting on Wednesday. Picture: Melissa Byers - Credit: Archant

The group have been granted final permission to take a judicial review against the town hall. They will protest against 5 per cent cuts to high-needs funding in state schools and argue changes to education health and care plans, used to assess support requirements, are unlawful.

Solicitor Anne-Marie Irwin of Irwin Mitchell, who is representing the families, said: “These proposals would severely impact on some of the most vulnerable people in society.

“We once again call on the council to engage with families to find a solution and end the worry and upset our clients are experiencing because of these proposals.

“It remains our view the council has failed to ensure each child receives the level of help they require and the proposals to reduce funding do not have the individual needs of a child in mind.”

But a council spokeswoman said: “We are aware of the decision and will respond to the court within the statutory guidelines. We are unable to comment any further at this point.”

As reported by the Gazette, The Hackney Special Educational Needs Crisis (HSENC) launched a crowdfunding campaign in April, raising over £5,000 to cover its legal costs.

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The campaigners believes another £5million worth of “savings” is on the way, which will force schools to make difficult choices, like choosing between specialist support teachers and equipment that enables children to see and hear.

There is an estimated £6.1m funding shortfall for SEND services in Hackney, prompting the council to lobby central government for more cash.

The HSENC also claim “covert cuts” were made to two of the boroughs three special schools from April 1, and that parents were not consulted.

They argue that the average pupil top-up funding at Ickburgh and the Garden schools has been cut by 6pc and 3.1pc respectively, and that governors at the Garden have not agreed to it.

What’s more, the HSENC claim the schools are unfairly impacted by the cost of employing a large number of teaching assistants.

These support staff are needed to provide one-to-one support for pupils but they incur additional costs, particularly around pensions.

A campaign spokeswoman whose child attends the Garden special school in Hackney said: “On one hand Hackney Council is asking for parents’ trust and collaboration and on the other they are making decisions that will have wrecking-ball consequences for disabled children in Hackney.”

But Hackney Council rejected claims the changes have been made covertly, arguing they have been in discussion with schools for some time through platforms like the Schools Forum.

SEND chief Cllr Chris Kennedy said: “Supporting vulnerable young people is one of the most important things we do and we take our responsibilities very seriously. Unfortunately, this is becoming more and more challenging as the pressures on our finances increase, particularly for SEND services.”

On June 26 there was a Hearing SEND voices meeting at City Academy, where 100 parents, carers and teachers met to discuss special educational needs and disabilities.

Cllr Kennedy added: “We value the views of parents, carers and professionals and we are engaging with them.

“Feedback from this event will help to shape council policies around SEND and will also inform the work of a new working group, led by an independent chair, with representatives from parents’ groups, campaign groups, councillors, teachers and other professionals.”

He added Hackney Council faces a £35m reduction in its government grant over the next two years.

Irwin Mitchell Solicitors are also representing families affected by similar issues in Surrey.