Taxpayer foots £156,000 bill for autistic boy's school fees

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A MOTHER has won a court battle to have her autistic son sent to a school at a cost to council taxpayers of up to £156,360 a year.

Edinburgh City Council wanted to keep the ten-year-old at a school in the capital, where the annual cost would be 20,000, but his mother fought for a place at a special school in Aberdeen.

A tribunal ruled the boy's prospects would be far brighter at Camphill Rudolph Steiner School in Aberdeen, and required the council, which is legally responsible for his education, to meet the expense.

The council appealed to the Court of Session, arguing it had to think of other similar children for whom it was responsible.

However, the judges decided yesterday the tribunal could be concerned only with the particular child in the particular case before it, and that its ruling should be upheld.

The court heard the child, named as "O" in the court papers, had pronounced learning difficulties and that his behaviour had been challenging from a young age and had become more difficult as he had got older.

Because of his needs, he went to Redhall School in Edinburgh, but in 2009, his mother submitted a placing request to the council, asking for him to become a pupil at Camphill residential school in Aberdeen. The council rejected the request, and the mother took the case to the Additional Support Needs Tribunal for Scotland.

It was told the cost of a 40-week place at Camphill would be at least 105,960 and could be as much as 156,360.

The boy's parents would see him at least once a month during term time and have holidays with him. At Redhall, the cost was 19,759 a year. "O" stayed with his parents and siblings in a flat in Edinburgh, and his behaviour at home was often especially challenging.

Camphill had recognised strengths in providing for children such as him the tribunal held, and there was "an appreciably better prospect" of his needs being met there rather than at the Edinburgh school.

"It is, of course, generally preferable that children should live with their parents, but it is equally obvious that there are cases where it is in a child's best interests to live away from home, for example for the purposes of education," the tribunal said. "In this case, the advantage of Camphill School being a residential school is that it enables O to learn to exist and function as a social being, and to learn to communicate and interact appropriately with others."

It appeared to the tribunal that, for the boy's needs, a comparison between the schools was markedly in favour of Camphill, while for costs, it was markedly in favour of Edinburgh.

"We were reminded that the local authority has to make provision for children other than O and no doubt this is so, but we were concerned only with O and his parents' placing request. "Our view was that the development of O's personality, talents and abilities to their fullest potential was much more likely at Camphill," the tribunal said.

In its appeal, the council argued it would be "an affront to common sense" to ignore what might be the consequences in relation to other children, including others with autism, for whom it was responsible.

However, Lord Hamilton, the Lord President, sitting with Lady Paton and Lady Cosgrove, said that, under the relevant legislation, the tribunal's approach had been clearly correct, and they refused the council's appeal.

Background

THE internationally renowned Camphill Rudolf Steiner movement was founded in Aberdeen in 1939 by a group of Austrian refugees who arrived in the city to establish a centre to care for and educate children with special needs.

The movement, led by Dr Karl Knig, founded its first school on the outskirts of the city, based on the ideals and teachings of Rudolf Steiner, pictured, who had argued decades earlier for the acceptance of the spiritual uniqueness of each human being, regardless of disability or religious or racial background.

Aberdeen is now the focal point of an international movement that has more than 100 centres in about 20 countries across the globe.