Case summary – Aberdeen City Council v. LS (Upper Tribunal for Scotland)

There are a number of differences between the systems of education in Scotland and England. One of those is the existence of specialist colleges for young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. Another is the tradition of Sixth Form Colleges. The question which arose in this case was whether pupils with additional support needs in Scotland could access this kind of provision elsewhere in the UK.

As you may know, the system of making placing requests includes, for pupils with additional support needs, the ability to make a request for “a school in England, Wales or Northern Ireland the managers of which are willing to admit the child and which is a school making provision wholly or mainly for children (or as the case may be young persons) having additional support needs”.

In this case, the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Health and Education Chamber), had determined – as a preliminary issue – that the specialist college in question did count as a “school” under the above definition. This meant that LS, the young person, could make a placing request to the specialist college in question. It also means that a refusal (or deemed refusal) of that placing request could be appealed to the Tribunal.

The Council appealed against this decision. There is quite a lot in the detail of the Upper Tribunal decision (Aberdeen City Council v. LS [2021] UT 1) here, but to provide the broad sweep, I will try to simplify.

  • The Upper Tribunal rejected the appeal points raised by the Council and upheld the original Tribunal’s decision. That is, the UT confirmed that the specialist college in this case could be counted as a school for the purposes of a placing request. The Council argued that it should not be because of the age of the students (16+) and the nature of the institution. That argument was rejected.
  • Lady Poole went on to make a number of observations, aimed at ensuring that Tribunal cases were not subject to unnecessary delays. These observations are just that, but they are likely to be taken seriously by the Health and Education Chamber.

So, what does this mean?

First, senior pupils in Scotland with additional support needs will be able to access a wider range of schools than was previously thought to be the case – including specialist colleges. Whether a particular institution and course do qualify will depend on the facts of the individual case, with the focus being on the nature of the provision being offered (can it be regarded as secondary education?) rather than on the age of their students or how they are regarded within the English system.

It follows that I refuse the appeal on grounds 1 and 2 advanced by ACC. Both are predicated on the argument that placing requests can only be to schools which provide education for pupils of school age (essentially 5-15 year olds). I do not consider this is a requirement of para 2(2)(b) of Schedule 2 when properly interpreted, for reasons set out above. I consider the approach of the FtT, in reading para 2(2)(b) in the way it did and determining whether that test was met on the evidence, was correct.

Lady Poole, Aberdeen City Council v. ACC [2021] UT 1

Second, we can look forward to potential changes in some Tribunal procedures. For example, it may well be that treating matters as a separate preliminary matter becomes less common. It is also likely that where a review and a request for permission to appeal are lodged at the same time (which is quite common) they should be considered at the same time, rather than one after the other. This should be quite helpful in reducing delays within the Tribunal process.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Potential Energy (Part 1)

As promised, and following a delay (for which I apologise), I finally turn my attention to the independent review of the implementation of Additional Support for Learning legislation in Scotland.  The review was chaired by Angela Morgan, and the report, titled “Support for Learning: All our Children and All their Potential” was published in June 2020. A formal response from Scottish Government and COSLA is expected in the Autumn.

There has not been much in the way of commentary on the review, with this interesting article by Alison Brown being a rare example.

I plan to take the same approach as I did with the mainstreaming guidance, which is to consider the report in shorter chunks.  This keeps things manageable for me, and allows for a more in-depth analysis of each section. As always, my focus is on the legal implications.

Continue reading “Potential Energy (Part 1)”

Mainstreaming, I presume? (Part 9)

And so, we finally get to the core of the guidance, which is the duty itself and – almost as importantly – the three exceptions to that duty.  As the guidance notes: “If there is doubt about the suitability of mainstream provision, it is the role of the education authority to use the legislation to weigh up a range of matters including the child or young person’s wellbeing, in order to reach a conclusion on the application of the three exceptions..”

Continue reading “Mainstreaming, I presume? (Part 9)”

Case summary – Aberdeenshire Council v. SS and DS (Upper Tribunal for Scotland)

As will be apparent from the decision notice itself, this was one of my cases, with the permission to appeal hearing taking place in the days before lockdown restrictions came into force in Scotland and the Upper Tribunal’s hearings were put on hold.

This is only the second reported decision from the Upper Tribunal for Scotland in an appeal from the Health and Education Chamber.  It is another decision on the specific question of whether permission to appeal should be granted (this arises as a matter for the Upper Tribunal to consider only where the First-tier Tribunal has refused permission).

The case is that of Aberdeenshire Council v. SS and DS [2020] UT 25, an appeal against a decision of the additional support needs Tribunal to require the authority to place the child in question at an independent special school (i.e. a placing request appeal).  The case has already been very well summarised and reported on by clan childlaw here: “Upper Tribunal refuses appeal by Aberdeenshire Council in case concerning placement request for child with additional support needs”.  However, I will make one or two observations in terms of the case’s broader significance, and the issues raised.

Continue reading “Case summary – Aberdeenshire Council v. SS and DS (Upper Tribunal for Scotland)”

Presidential powers to refer to Scottish Ministers used for the first time

In my earlier post on the Ashdown House School Case, I mentioned in passing, the enforcement powers of the Tribunal in Scotland:

Of course, in Scotland, the President of the Health and Education Chamber has specific powers to monitor the implementation of Tribunal decisions. In the event that such decisions are not implemented, a referral to the Scottish Ministers (who have enforcement powers and mechanisms in relation to both public and independent schools) may be made.

These powers have now been used for the first time since the Additional Support Needs Tribunals for Scotland were first set up (back in 2005). In a recent disability discrimination case, the child (who was the litigant in that case) complained that the education authority in question had not complied with the orders made by the Tribunal within their decision.

Rule 12 of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland Health and Education Chamber Rules of Procedure 2018 state:

Power to monitor implementation of First-tier Tribunal decisions

12. The Chamber President may, in any case where a decision of the First-tier Tribunal required an authority to do anything, keep under review the authority’s compliance with the decision and, in particular, may—

(a) require the authority to provide information about the authority’s implementation of the First-tier Tribunal decision;
(b) where the Chamber President is not satisfied that the authority is complying with the decision, refer the matter to the Scottish Ministers.

So, while it is true that the Scottish Ministers do have enforcement powers in relation to both public and independent schools, the powers of the President do seem to be limited to decisions affecting education authorities.  They would not be available where the responsible body was the proprietor of an independent school.  Apologies.  I will amend the original article to reflect this.

In this case, however, the orders were made in relation to an education authority and the President, having first considered the authority’s information provided, and thereafter allowed a short period in which to further progress compliance with the decision, considered that the authority had not complied with the decision.  She therefore took the unprecedented step of referring the matter to the Scottish Ministers.

So, what will the Scottish Ministers do now?  Section 70 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 and Section 27(9) to (11) of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 both give the Scottish Ministers powers to require education authorities to take certain action in relation to their functions under the 2004 Act (in the latter case) and in relation to the 1980 Act or “any other enactment relating to education” (in the former).

Given that this case was a claim (under the Equality Act 2010) and not a reference (under the 2004 Act) it seems likely that the Scottish Government will use the Section 70 route.  This now has a statutory procedure, set out in the Section 70 (Procedure) (Scotland) Regulations 2017, and would ultimately allow Scottish Ministers to declare the authority to be in default of their duties, and to require them to take specified action to remedy that default.

Given that there is the possibility for this process to be used in relation to most Tribunal decisions, those drafting orders should bear in mind the need for any requirements to be clear and specific – it should be obvious whether a decision has been complied with or not.  Orders should also, in appropriate cases, come with time limits.  Otherwise it can be difficult to know when a delay (or even an ongoing process) might be viewed as a failure to comply.

This is a significant development, and a reminder to claimants and appellants with a decision in their favour that there is a way in which the implementation of the decision can be monitored and – if necessary – enforced.