Father takes High Court action against council over SEND education for son

Colin and Finlay Dawson -  their case against the county council will go to the High Court this summer

Colin and Finlay Dawson - their case against the county council will go to the High Court this summer - Credit: Colin Dawson/LDRS

A father of a 16-year-old with severe learning disabilities is taking Essex County Council to court for refusing to pay for appropriate education provision outside the county.

Colin Dawson, 49, from Braintree, is now scheduled to argue in the High Court that the authority should fund a place for his son Finlay at a special school in Kent.

Mr Dawson has been told Finlay would be welcome at Mount Camphill, near Tunbridge Wells, which he claims provides a level of education not available to his son in Essex.

Since September 2021, Mr Dawson has been trying to urge Essex County Council to pay for that place – but has been so far refused that request.

Essex County Council said it is working with Mr Dawson to agree appropriate provision for Finlay.

Mr Dawson says the need is even more acute given the degree of Finlay's disability. Finlay cannot form more than a three-word sentence, cannot form any type of written word, or read or write, has no concept of stranger danger, cannot wash himself properly and is unable to use a knife or fork, despite his father trying to teach those life skills at home.

In 2014, while on holiday in Portugal, he watched his mother collapse with a brain aneurysm from which she died three weeks later.

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Mr Dawson said at the time he made a promise that he would do anything to ensure Finlay receives the best education he could.

Mount Camphill’s timetables consist of speech and language, working on the farm with animals, growing food, pottery, weaving, woodwork, and cookery. It also includes amateur dramatics and work experience in the local town one weekend per month.

He said: “It pains me to think that Finlay is ready for a school like that now but Essex is quite happy to say that the school he is now is right for two years.

“Mentally he is not happy there. This school in Kent is better for him.

“I am not happy with just making do. I could leave him there for the next two years. But he is not going to get any further. His mental health is only going to get worse and as he gets older that is not going to get any better.

“What he needs is to channel that into something that is going to be a realistic positive way of thinking.”

He is also angry that Finlay’s education, health and care plan (EHCP) had not been updated or looked at since 2015. He has not been assessed by an Educational Psychologist since 2011.

He now says for the benefit of Finlay, Essex County Council needs to fund an out of county place.

After receiving the letter from Senco in April that refused his application for his son to start in his new school in September 2022, he has launched an appeal which is due to be heard at the High Court on July 15.

A spokesperson for Essex County Council said: “While it would not be appropriate to share details of an individual case, we are working with this family to agree appropriate SEND provision for this pupil.

“Essex County Council is committed to ensuring that every child in the county has the support they need to meet their educational potential, and that they receive all the necessary support and resources to meet any special educational needs or disabilities.”