Aberdeen City Council has been forced to shell out for the schooling of a disabled north-east girl after it lost a landmark case to force her to be educated somewhere cheaper within the Granite City.
In a “first of its kind” case in Scotland, the local authority sought to challenge the youngster’s preference to be educated at the Royal National College (RNC) for the Blind in Hereford, England, due her disability.
The city council attempted to deny the request because it deemed RNC “a college of further education and not a school”.
The girl, who cannot be named due to legal restrictions, is registered blind in one eye, with restricted vision in the other.
An Upper Tribunal court found that the RNC could be deemed a specialist school, while, as a result of that decision, a first tier tribunal hearing found that Aberdeen City Council had no grounds to refuse the girl’s placement request and that it should be granted.
Included within the decision was the finding that the school she currently attends within Aberdeen was “not able to meet her needs in full”.
The lawyer for the girl’s family, Iain Nisbet, said: “This case establishes – for the first time – a route for senior pupils with additional support needs to seek provision for the final years of school education within the specialist college sector in England and Wales.
“The tribunal’s decision will allow the young person to thrive in a specialist environment and to achieve independence in adult life.”
As a result of the tribunal decision, Aberdeen City Council will now have to pay the fees for the girl’s education in England.
It was also noted in the court documents that the local authority’s challenge to the girl’s choice of school could have breached a 2004 Scottish Parliament act that allows young people with additional support needs to be educated not only in Scotland, but also elsewhere in the UK.
Mr Nisbet added: “Part of the grounds of refusal that the local authority were trying to rely on was in terms of each school’s suitability, but also in terms of their cost.
“What they were arguing was that it wouldn’t be reasonable to spend that money on sending her to this school – so the cost was a key part of both the council’s argument and of the tribunal’s decision.”
The girl will be educated over three years at the RNC in Hereford.
Mary Rasmussen, a campaigner and former chairwoman of guide dogs Aberdeen, said: “Every child deserves the right education and for a child who previously had sigh she is going to need specialist teaching so that she gets the very best education that a school has to offer.
“Blind people are not necessarily worse off given the right education, but not getting the right education can leave them very disadvantaged.”
An Aberdeen City Council spokesperson said: “The council notes the findings of the Tribunal’s decision and will comply with its terms.”