Concerns for Families as Special Educational Needs budgets are Expected to be Tightened

Recent media attention has brought to light a concerning issue that is affecting the education sector in England. Councils are forecasting a shortfall of almost £1bn in special needs budgets this year. This financial strain is causing alarm among parents and educators alike, who fear that children with Special Educational Needs or Disabilities (SEND) could suffer as a result.

The Current Problem

The accumulated deficit in England for SEND has reached £3.2bn since 2019. This is despite the rising demand for these services. Official statistics show that almost 600,000 children and young people now have an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) in England. These EHCPs mean councils have a legal duty to meet the child or young person’s needs.

However, the gap between funding and spending is increasing. Last year saw a 26% year-on-year increase in the number of new plans issued across England. This is part of a complex picture of growing demand, which councils are struggling to meet from the central government funding they receive for SEND.

The Impact on Children and Families

The financial pressures have become more visible and urgent, with 38 local authorities entering into bailout agreements with the government. In these “safety valve” deals, they receive some extra funding in return for an agreement to cut SEND deficits. This has set off alarm bells among parent groups who fear it may lead to limits being imposed on support.

As reported in the BBC, parents like Sarah Morgan, describe the process of getting their child’s needs set out in an EHCP as “really hard and overwhelming”. Many parents resort to going to a tribunal to get the plan updated. This not only adds to the emotional stress of families but also puts a strain on the legal system.

The Legal Perspective

From a legal standpoint, these developments raise serious concerns. Councils have a legal duty to meet the needs of children and young people with an EHCP. However, the financial constraints would likely limit the ability for councils to issue and support children with EHCPs in place.

This approach is problematic as it potentially infringes on the rights of children with SEND. It is crucial that the legal obligations of councils are upheld, and that every child with SEND receives the support they need.

A clinical negligence claim for special education needs (SEND) can arise when a school fails to provide the necessary support for a child with SEND, resulting in unmet needs. This could be seen as negligence.

To establish negligence, the provision must fall below the standard accepted by a responsible body of that type of educational provision and damage (injury or loss) is suffered as a direct result which was reasonably foreseeable. This could relate to teaching methods, overall organisation, the content of the courses, the facilities, or the appropriate diagnosis of a Special Educational Need.

In a case specific to Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND), some of the following could potentially be claimed depending on the facts:

  1. Special Educational Provision and Support Costs: If a child’s educational needs are not being met, parents or guardians can claim for the provision or cost of appropriate educational support or resources that the child has needed as a result of the negligence.
  2. Compensation for Loss of Opportunity: If it can be proven that the negligence has resulted in the child missing out on educational opportunities or potential future earnings, compensation may be claimed.
  3. Psychological Damage: If the child has suffered psychological damage as a result of the negligence, compensation may be claimed for this.
  4. Reimbursement of Expenses: Any expenses that have been incurred as a result of the negligence, such as private tuition or therapy sessions, could potentially be claimed back.

Please note that each case is unique, and the specific circumstances will determine what can be claimed. 


The tightening of budgets for special educational needs is a pressing issue that requires immediate attention. It is essential that the government, councils, and the legal system work together to ensure that the rights and needs of children with SEND are not compromised due to financial constraints.

This situation serves as a reminder of the importance of adequate funding in education, particularly for those with special educational needs. It underscores the need for legal safeguards to protect the rights of these children and their families.

You can learn more about the above issues below:

Send: Concern as councils expect £1bn special educational needs shortfall - BBC News

Our clinical negligence team has a wealth of experience in dealing with a variety of clinical negligence claims. If you think that you, or a loved one, may have been affected by negligent medical care, you are welcome to contact Karen Reynolds, Siobhan Genever, Lauren Green, Sonya Friend or Ibrahim Mahmood to discuss how we can help and support you.

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The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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