Tribunal rules on education dispute

Posted: 17th April 2013

schoolThe Upper Tribunal (UT) has directed a fresh hearing of a dispute between a local education authority and the mother of a severely disabled 11-year-old boy as to whether his education in a mainstream school would be incompatible with the efficient use of resources and the efficient education of other pupils.

The boy (F) suffers from numerous disabilities consequent upon a very rare form of muscular dystrophy and his curriculum attainments are mainly equivalent to a developmental level of between six and 12 months. The authority wished to place F in a special school but his mother was adamant that he should be educated, with substantial additional support, in a mainstream school.

The First-Tier Tribunal (FTT) had allowed the mother’s appeal on the basis that there were mainstream schools outside the authority’s area which provided specialist facilities and where F could be educated alongside other pupils with severe and complex disabilities.

In allowing the authority’s appeal and remitting the case to the FTT for fresh determination, the UT ruled that the members of the FTT panel had erred in relying on their own knowledge of educational provision outside the authority’s area. The UT noted that, since the FTT’s decision, the authority had only managed to identify one potentially suitable mainstream school outside its area. That school was probably too far from the boy’s home to be practicable and was in any event full to capacity.

The authority had no power to compel a school outside its area to admit F and, by its decision, the FTT had required the authority to do ‘something that was impossible in practice’. The UT concluded: ‘It is important that a tribunal should not put a local education authority in the position of being in effect ordered to do the impossible’.