Special Education Provision Challenge
In ZK, R (On the Application Of) v London Borough of Redbridge  EWHC 1450 the High Court has found a local authority’s arrangements for providing specialist support to children with visual impairments to be reasonable, following a challenge by a 12 year old pupil (“the Claimant”.)
The Claimant (who brought the claim through her mother as her litigation friend) was completely blind and partially deaf as a result of a brain tumour. She held an Education, Health and Care Plan (“EHCP”) which set out her special educational needs and the provision she required whilst attending a mainstream school.
The local authority (in this case, the London Borough of Redbridge) maintained the Claimant’s EHCP and was responsible for ensuring that the provision identified within it was put in place. Part of the provision within the Claimant’s EHCP identified that she should have in-class learning support assistance from a teaching assistant and support from a QTVI teacher (a teacher qualified to teach children and young people with visual impairment). In addition, the EHCP required that the Claimant have additional support from a second teaching assistant to allow Braille resources to be prepared for her in advance of lessons. The EHCP set out specific training that the teaching assistants must have in order to properly support the Claimant.
In order to make the provision, the local authority contracted with a specialist provider to provide the services of QTVI teachers. The QTVI teachers were then tasked with training teaching assistants that were employed by the school.
The Claimant advanced five grounds (not repeated here) which argued that this approach was irrational, unlawful and (therefore) discriminatory as it gave visually impaired pupils less choice over their preferred school and placed them at risk of being left without the requisite support. It was suggested that the local authority could only lawfully meet its duties by directly employing a pool of ready trained specialist teaching assistants and QTVI teachers so that they could be deployed as and when needed.
The High Court dismissed the claim, concluding that the disadvantage identified by the Claimant was not inevitable, nor was it any less likely to occur if the local authority adopted the proposed model put forward by the Claimant.
What does this mean?
The decision will be welcome news to a number of local authorities, who adopt the same or similar model to the London Borough of Redbridge. However, in a circumstance where such a model can be clearly shown to disadvantage pupils and an alternative (reasonable) model put forward, the court could well reach a different conclusion.
If you would like more information on this topic, please contact Laura Thompson or you can give us a call on 0345 070 6000.
Pavi Atwal assisted with the preparation of this article.