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COURT ALLOWS SUNDERLAND APPEAL AGAINST SEN TRIBUNAL

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Case no: CO/3383/95 ...
Case no: CO/3383/95

The father of a 'severely handicapped' 15-year-old Sunderland girl has failed in a high court bid to keep her at the special school of his choice.

In court yesterday Mr Justice Brooke upheld Sunderland City Council's view that the girl - named only as 'C' - could not be allowed to stay on at the school which is meant for children between the ages of five and 13.

But the girl's father remained defiant outside court, saying that he would consider placing his daughter in a day-care centre when she reaches school leaving age in April, rather than accepting her transfer to another school.

The court heard 'C' is severely handicapped, suffering from frequent epileptic seizures for which 'medication gives only limited relief'.

Mr Justice Brooke said she had 'profound and multiple learning difficulties', and depended on adult support for many of her daily needs. Although unable to speak, she can walk, and doctors believe that constant movement may serve to alleviate her epilepsy.

Most of her teaching at her current school has been carried out by the same the same teacher, and the judge said 'C' was well settled there.

But in December 1994 the council altered her statement of special educational needs and decided to transfer her to another school for children aged 14-19 with severe learning difficulties.

Though both schools had first-rate reputations, 'C''s parents appealed to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal which ruled that she could stay on at her present school in September last year.

The tribunal said the Education Act principle of 'parental preference' should prevail over the council's views.

Upholding the city council's appeal against the tribunal's decision, Mr Justice Brooke said the reputation of both schools was 'excellent'.

But government regulations required that despite 'C''s small stature and her young appearance, she could not stay on at a school meant for younger children.

'The Special Education Needs Tribunal has no power under the Education Act to order an amendment of a statement of special needs which would have the effect of obliging a school to have as a pupil a child in circumstances where it would be otherwise unlawful for the school to have that child.

'I can see in the terms of the statute no power at all being given to the tribunal to override the arrangements prescribed by statute as to the number, age and sexes of pupils a school may lawfully take'.

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