Simpson Millar Challenges Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Spending Reduced by £5m

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Sarah Woosey

Interim Head of Education Law

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A rolled-up hearing (when a case is expedited) took place on Tuesday, July 24th 2018 at Bristol Civil Justice Centre to challenge Bristol City Council’s decision to reduce Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) spending by £5m in the local area.

Represented by Simpson Millar’s Public Law and Education Law Solicitors, two families affected brought the legal action amidst ‘significant concerns’ that the council’s decision was unlawful. The Judgment has been handed down and the Court has concluded that the decision-making process, completed by Bristol City Council was legally flawed.

The Case Details

Two families made history in the summer of 2018 by taking Bristol City Council to the High Court for its £5 million cuts to SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) spending. This was the first case of its kind in the UK. 

On Friday 3rd August 2018, the High Court ruled that Bristol City Council were wrong to cut spending from the education budget for children and young people with Special Educational Needs. The two families won their case, and the council were ordered to reverse the cuts and any savings.

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The Outcome

Judge Barry Cotter provided the judgement on this case against Bristol City Council. He stated that he felt the council had acted unlawfully and that the cut to spending was not needed.

Judge Cotter explained that the council would need to find a way to save money “without disturbing other aspects of the budget or in particular the council tax calculation”.

The Judge went on to explain that he believes the council has no regard for the welfare of children and that they were only focused on balancing the books, rather than supporting SEND children.

"There is no evidence, from the extensive paperwork evidencing the defendant's decision-making process, that members of the council had any regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, still less 'actively promote' children's welfare, when making the decision to proceed with the proposed savings.

"Indeed, the decision-making process appears to be driven entirely from the standpoint of ensuring a balanced budget by 2020/21."

One of our Education Law team commented, “We had significant concerns that the Council did not follow the appropriate procedures and legislation in making these reductions, and did not properly consult those likely to be impacted. The decision shows that the Court shared our concerns, finding in favour of the two families who brought this claim.

“The Court concluded that the process completed by Bristol City Council before reaching its decision was flawed. Furthermore, the Court confirmed they were unable to determine what the outcome would have been in the absence of the legal errors. The Judge held that “full funding might have been allocated.

“Bristol City Council will now have to reconsider its funding allocation to the High Needs Block budget and to do so in a lawful way, as the Court has confirmed that the High Needs Budget will be quashed. This is a very important recognition that while Local Authorities may have to cut budgets, they may only do it if it is done lawfully.

“Our clients hope that Bristol City Council will recognise the serious concerns about SEN services and outcomes reflected in the Judgment when taking the new funding decision.”

Why is it important to not reduce SEND spending?

In 2023, the total number of EHCPs (Educational, Health and Care Plans) was517,000. This has risen by 9% since 2022 and has been increasing every year since 2010. The number of new EHCPs made throughout the calendar year has also increased. During 2022, there were 66,700 new EHCPs made, which has risen 7% since the previous year.

Without the proper funding, many children and young people with SEND could be missing out on the quality education that they need. Spending budgets for SEND allow schools and education settings to deliver the support to those who need it.

How funding helps schools and SEND children

Funding for children and young people with SEND is vital for allowing them to meet their sought outcomes, which can only be achieved with the appropriate support.

While every child with SEND is unique, and therefore their needs are individual, here’s an idea of the type of provision that SEND funding can help with:

  • Regular training for teachers and staff
  • External support and advice such as from an Educational Psychologist or other professional
  • 1:1 support for the child or young person
  • Therapy, such as speech or play therapies
  • Specialist materials to offer support
  • Resources and equipment
  • Extra support in the classroom
  • Employing an additional staff member to offer specialist support

How SEND funding works for schools

The amount of funding that each school or educational setting receives depends on the type of school, the number of places they have, the number of students with SEN and/or EHCPs, the number of students on free school meals. Here’s an overview of how different types of schools are funded:

Mainstream schools

Mainstream schools receiving funding based on the number of pupils that they have. If they have pupils with special needs, such as having an EHCP, they will receive extra funding. The additional funding is referred to as ‘element 2’ funding.

If a school needs more funding than they have, they can apply to the council. This is an option for schools with pupils who have complex needs. If this is applied for, this is called ‘element 3’ funding or ‘top up’ funding.

Special Needs schools

Special Needs schools are not funded in thesame way as mainstream schools are. As every child has Special Educational Needs or Disabilities, the school receives a fixed amount per place. 

However, those with EHCPs should come with the funding required to meet the child’s needs for anything which is over and above what can be delivered from within the standard funding available ‘per place’.

Learn about how your child’s school uses their funding

If you would like more information on how your child’s school uses the SEND funding that they receive, this can be requested. You must do this through the school directly, who should then respond to you with an overview of how it’s used.

You will be provided with details on how the school uses the SEND budget to support your child and whether it’s enough to allow for all the provisions that they need, according to your child’s EHCP.

How we can help

If you’re concerned about whether or not your child’s special educational needs are being met, we can help you.

Speak with one of our Educational Law Solicitors today, who can offer you a free consultation on your case. We’ll provide you with all the advice and information that you need and outline the options that are available to you.

References: (2022). Education, health and care plans, Reporting Year 2020. [online] Available at:

Local Government Association (2019). Bright Futures: SEND funding. [online] Available at: (n.d.). Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) | Local Government Association. [online] Available at:

Yong, M. (2018). Mums who took council to court over cuts win in landmark case. [online] Bristol Live. Available at:

Sarah Woosey Profile Picture

Sarah Woosey

Interim Head of Education Law

Areas of Expertise:
Education Law

Sarah re-joined Simpson Millar in 2018 having previously trained at the firm before spending a number of years working for a different national firm. She has a number of years’ experience in a range of Education Law and Social Care issues and has focused particularly on getting suitable education and/or services for children and young adults with a wide range of Special Educational Needs and/or disabilities.

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