Can a child with a disability be too gifted?

The responsibility of local authorities to support those with learning disabilities could be set to increase, reports Roger Pearson. The obligations of local authorities to provide special help for youngsters with learning difficulties are to come under High Court scrutiny.

Leave has been given by Mr Justice Hidden for a challenge to the stance of Portsmouth City Council towards providing financial backing for the special needs of a 15-year-old boy, identified only as "F".

F is gifted educationally and about to start university at the age of only 15.

But his counsel, Philip Engleman, told the judge that although F was "at the top of the scale" when it came to intelligence and verbal ability, he suffered from both dyslexia and dyspraxia (the latter is sometimes known as "clumsy child syndrome").

This, said Engleman, meant that despite his intellectual gift he suffered difficulties with reading, writing and other, non-verbal skills. He also had difficulty in manipulating objects, such as a knife and fork.

Despite this, he passed his English literature GCSE when he was nine, an A level in the same subject when he was 11, then began an Open University degree course and at 14 won a place at Peterhouse College, Cambridge, where he was scheduled to begin reading theology and art history in October.

Despite his obvious ability and the way he has developed study methods to enable him to overcome his difficulties, Portsmouth Council has said it does not have any powers enabling it to assist a school child to attend a university course under the special educational needs legislation.

Now, in what is being viewed as a major test case, leave has been given for its stance to be challenged.

In the recent hearing Engleman argued that the council was wrong in its view and that in fact it had wide discretion to offer assistance. He claimed that discretion was wide enough for F to be offered funding while he was at Cambridge, despite his age.

Giving leave for the challenge, the judge said that he could not say there was not a point to be argued. However, he did warn that while he took this view he suspected that the outcome for F could eventually be "holed amidships".