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Liennard v Slough Borough Council

25 March 2002
The issues

Schools – special needs.

The facts

The Claimant brought proceedings against Slough Borough Council, the relevant Education Authority. The Claimant had had an unsettled early upbringing. He had been described at his private Junior School as being bright but disorganised. He failed the 11 plus and went from the private school to a State Comprehensive in Slough, his father no longer being prepared to pay school fees. During his time at the Stat77e School, he was consistently described as being lazy, disorganised, lacking in effort but undoubtedly very bright. He left school at the age of 16, passing with 5 GCSEs which put him in the top 13% of the school, although the Trial Judge found that his achievement in terms of examinations was well short of what he should have achieved. He worked in a warehouse as a Stacker and subsequently in a Darts Factory. He had a period of drug addiction and subsequently attended East Berkshire College, beginning an Access course. He began well but subsequently his achievements tailed off and he was referred by his Tutors at East Berkshire to a Chartered Psychologist who described him as being gifted but with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit fulfilling the criteria for Aspergers.

There was no clear agreement on the part of the experts called at the Trial as to what condition, if any, the Claimant did suffer from. He was not dyslexic. The Claimant alleged that he should have been referred to an Educational Psychologist whilst attending school and that had he done so, he would have pursued a financially more rewarding career, possibly academic.

The decision

1. The Claimant was intellectually able. The school had been sympathetic to the Claimant. However, the lack of consideration as to whether to send him to an Educational Psychologist was not negligent. The teachers acted in a way in which reasonably competent teachers between 1985 and 1989 would have acted. The Judge accepted the evidence of John Acklaw, Chartered Educational Psychologist, called on behalf of the Defendant that “in the absence of extreme behaviour or behaviour that was outside their professional experience, they had no reason to refer the Claimant to an Educational Psychologist. In the absence of specialised knowledge, it would have been reasonable for teachers%u2026 to draw upon their experience and knowledge of the potential effects of family disruption and dysfunction upon pupil behaviour and attitudes to learning and to interpret the Claimant’s behaviour accordingly”.

2. Unpleaded allegations were made that the Claimant should have been allowed an extra year at school. The failure to do so was in any event regarded as not being negligent by the Judge. Similarly, an unpleaded allegation at Trial was made that the Claimant should have been referred to a Welfare Officer – again an allegation which the Trial Judge rejected.

3. As to quantum, the Judge noted that he would have found £15,000.00 in respect of general damages for pain, suffering loss of amenity and loss of congenial employment. (No attempt to break down this figure was made) as to loss of earnings, the Judge would have followed the reasoning of Mr Justice Garland in Phelps and Blamire -v- South Cumbria Health Authority (1993 PIQR) and awarded a lump sum representing a loss of opportunity to gain employment which he would have put in the region of £20,000.00. Claim dismissed.

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