In this case, the parents wanted their child to attend an independent residential special school (WHS). It was accepted that this school could meet his needs. The local authority said that the child should be placed at a maintained day special school (GHS). The local authority argued that the parent’s choice of school was more expensive and would amount to unreasonable public expenditure. The case was appealed several times, up to the Court of Appeal.

The comparative figures put before the Court of Appeal for the two schools were as follows:-

  • the total figure for a placement at GHS was £92,900; and
  • the total figure for a placement at WHS was £90,441.

The main differences between the figures were that (i) the school costs for WHS were £61,238 and the school costs for GHS were £33,448; and (ii) the cost of a placement at GHS included £29,336 for separate fees for respite care, whereas for WHS the cost of the residential placement was included in the fees. The argument was made that the ‘educational’ costs at GHS were much cheaper and therefore the parents’ choice of school represented ‘unreasonable public expenditure’.  

The Court of Appeal clarified that when working out costs under s. 9 of the Education Act 1996, the ordinary meaning should be given to term ‘public expenditure’. Therefore, a local authority must compare the total costs of both placements to the public purse. This is not only education expenditure incurred by the authority but any public expenditure saved. This will include social care, health, benefits, transport and any other costs that are included in the placement.

This case remains relevant to children and young people with EHC plans, where a local authority is arguing that the parent or young person’s choice of school would be an inefficient use of resources or unreasonable public expenditure. Costs associated with the placement (such as respite care or therapists attending the school) are taken into account as well as the basic cost of the placement.

The full case report is available here.

For more information, see our section on choosing a school when you have an EHC plan.