On the 19th July 2019, parents of children with special educational needs watched closely as the High Court passed down a critical judgment on a judicial review of Leicestershire’s policy to withdraw educational transport provision to 16 to 18 year olds with special educational needs. Under the policy, in most cases transport to schools and colleges is to be withdrawn and replaced with a personal transport budget provided to parents.
It was challenged by parents on the bases of being discriminatory on the grounds of age, in breach of the human right to education, and in breach of the council’s duty to consider the equality impact of the policy. Those grounds of challenge were all unsuccessful and rejected by the High Court.
However, the High Court judge in the case, Mr Justice Swift, was highly critical of the policy of the Conservative council and how it had been presented and implemented.
Stuart Brady, Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Loughborough, said “this is no victory for Leicestershire County Council. Their approach to presenting and implementing these cuts affecting vulnerable young people and families has been seriously criticised by a High Court judge. These measures leave parents in our county facing huge costs while providing care round the clock for their sons and daughters needing special schools.”
In his judgment Mr Justice Swift said that “the lack of information” in the special educational needs policy regarding the calculation of the Personal Transport Budgets was “astonishing.” He said parents “are simply left to guess” about how the budget will be calculated. He said about the evidence provided in this specific case, “the correspondence I have seen gives no clue as to the approach that would have been taken to reach the final amount.”
The Judge added “These matters do not affect my conclusion on the grounds of challenge pursued in this claim, which I have addressed above. But they ought to give the Council pause for thought.”
He was further critical of the presentation of the proposals: the policy “seeks to shift some part of the burden of meeting the cost of home to school transport from the Council to parents””. But “the information given to parents about PTBs avoids stating this uncomfortable truth.” He continued “I hope it will take the opportunity to reconsider these matters.”
Stuart Brady Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Loughborough, who is also a barrister, continued “this is serious criticism of the policy from a specialist judge who has considered it in detail. He is basically saying that the Tory County Council are not being upfront, clear or fair with families.”
Mr Brady continued “I know that local parents are seriously concerned about these measures and the impact that they will have on their children, finances and family life. I would implore the County Council to re-examine these policies and their implementation in light of this criticism from the High Court.”
“It was very worrying that in its official response to this judgment the Tory County Council, through Cllr Blake Pain, simply emphasised its so-called victory in court whilst ignoring these serious concerns about their conduct in making and presenting these cuts.”