Council counts the cost of education

A legal battle over children's rights to education is now heading for the High Court. The case could result in new legal guidelines for local authorities who attempt to tighten purse strings by cutting back on education facilities for children who have fallen out of the system.

Mr Justice Collins has given leave for a group of six children from Lambeth to bring an action to the High Court aimed at forcing their local education authority to provide them with a "suitable education".

The judge said the case identifies a problem which could affect many inner city areas.

It focuses on what have been dubbed the "forgotten children" who, through bullying, bad behaviour or other factors have dropped out of the main-stream education system.

The full hearing is scheduled for the autumn. When the case reaches court it will be argued on behalf of the children, aged between 13 and 15, that Lambeth Council is in breach of its duty under s19 of the Education Act 1996, to make suitable arrangements for each child.

The children's parents claim that Lambeth's education chiefs unlawfully proposed to alter their funding arrangements so as to reduce the number of places for children attending charity-run centres for children who were no longer in mainstream schooling.

The judge said he considered the education authority had an "arguable case." He had been told in January that there are an estimated 1,000 children in Lambeth who are likely to be affected by the education authority's decision.

Solicitor for the children, Richard Stein, of London firm Leigh Day, commented: "This is a generation of children who have fallen through the net. What has happened to them is horrifying."