Sussex to appeal for right to decide on home tuition

East Sussex County Council is to appeal against a High Court decision that has prevented cash-strapped local authorities from cutting an estimated 150,000 children's home tuition.

In April Mr Justice Keene ruled that the council's need to make budget savings could not be taken into account in deciding to cut 15-year-old Beth Tandy's home tuition from five to three hours a week.

Tandy was diagnosed with ME in 1990 and subsequently stopped attending school.

The education authority decided to cut her tuition last September when it was faced with a budget shortfall of £3m.

The Tandy family complained that three hours tuition did not give their daughter a realistic chance of passing her GCSEs in English language, literature and maths.

But the judge ruled that under the Education Act age, ability, aptitude and special education needs could be taken into account when deciding the amount of home tuition required, but not a council's financial position.

He ruled in Beth's case that the education authority had been powerfully influenced by the needs to make budget cuts.

The ruling affected every local education authority in England and Wales, and was hailed as a victory for the estimated 150,000 sick or suspended school children who receive home tuition.

East Sussex County Council's assistant county secretary Paul O'Sullivan said it had lodged its appeal on three grounds.

First, that the judge was wrong to distinguish this case from the recent Gloucestershire County Council case, in which the House of Lords decided that withdrawal of social services solely on financial grounds was lawful.

Second, that the council has the right to make limited policy in regards to education and part of that policy-making process must include financial considerations.

Third, that five hours of tuition was not a "magic figure" to ensure Beth Tandy had adequate home tuition, and that the judge had focused too closely on this point.

O'Sullivan said that the council would dispute the facts of the case and the judge's interpretation of the medical evidence.

While the court heard that Tandy had suffered from headaches, a short concentration span, fatigue and muscle aches there is still widespread medical controversy over the causes and effects of ME.

Solicitor for the Tandy family, William Garnett, of Bates Wells & Braithwaite, said the appeal was predictable, given that the High Court ruling affected so many councils.

However, he remained confident that the Appeal Court would uphold the decision.