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Sullivan v Devon County Council, Truro County Court

30 October 2002
The issues

Dyslexia – limitation.

The facts

The Claimant was educated from 1979 onwards. He attended at least 4 primary schools before going onto Dartmouth Community College, where he completed his secondary education between 1986 and 1990. The Claimant’s mother, who alleged she also suffered from dyslexia, alleged that she had told the primary schools that her son was dyslexic and that this was the reason for his failure to progress. Two psychological assessments were made during the Claimant’s primary education and neither found that the Claimant was dyslexic. The Claimant was referred to the Royal Berkshire Hospital where he was given corrective glasses for a visual problem and provided with remedial in-class support. He was assessed in July 1984 as having a reading age of 7.1 as compared to a chronological age of 9.8 and the Defendant argued that this was not sufficient a retardation as to justify a referral in itself to an Educational Psychologist.

At Dartmouth Community College, he received specialist tuition from an individual who, though formally untrained, was recognised by the Judge as an expert. He left school with 3 poor GCSEs and a reading age of notably lower than his chronological age. He was eventually referred by the LEA to an Educational Psychologist and a diagnosis of dyslexia was made. He was statemented and continued at Dartmouth Community College. The Claimant alleged that he should have been statemented earlier and that different and better provision should have been given to him at all times. He alleged a lifetime loss of earnings. The Defendant argued that it was not reasonable for it to be on notice, given the failure of two Educational Psychologists, one of whom had been instructed by the mother herself, to diagnose dyslexia and that following the eventual diagnosis, the education provided by the statement was reasonable, particularly having regard to Dartmouth’s local standing as a place expert in the teaching of remedial children.

In any event, the Defendant argued that the claim was statute barred and that the discretion should not be exercised, having regard to the absence of witnesses and the loss of documents.

The decision

1. The general strategy of the 1981 Education Act was that special needs children should be educated in the mainstream if possible and that where special tuition was needed that they should be dealt with in groups so that the child should not be isolated.

2. This was part of the background to the claim. In addition, it was necessary for the Court to remind itself that the Claimant was one in a classroom of at least 20 and that there were considerations of government policy, funding and class sizes generally to be borne in mind in regard to any finding of whether the Officers of the LEA and the teachers had behaved reasonably. This was not a trial of the education system.

3. The Judge was not influenced by the failure of the Claimant’s parents’ marriage and discounted the emotional factors consequent upon this as a cause for his failure to progress educationally. However, from the documents, it appeared that the Claimant was less than energetic in his approach to school. It was noteworthy that in the 10 years since he had left school, the Claimant had taken no steps to ameliorate his dyslexic condition.

4. There had been two assessments at the mother’s behest and expense and neither had found the Claimant to be dyslexic. The school had been given the results of these by the Claimant’s mother. In addition, the Headmaster of the first primary school that the Claimant had attended, had commissioned a test which had also shown that the Claimant was not suffering from dyslexia. The Claimant’s mother alleged that this test had not occurred, but this was rejected. What was significant, was that the Claimant had four changes of education and the witnesses whose evidence he accepted, indicated that this was a less than ideal preparation for secondary school.

5. There was no evidence of individual negligence on the part of any identified officer or teacher alleged by the Claimant.

6. As for the Claimant’s secondary education, the Claimant had been fortunate in going to Dartmouth and being taught by Felicity Craig, whose dedication was remarkable. The secondary school teachers generally were decent, caring, professional and dedicated people trying hard and to a great extent succeeding in difficult times. The allegations made against the Defendant were sweeping and lacking in particularity. The Claimant’s expert evidence was generic, sweeping intemperate and full of generalised allegations with regard to Government policy. The evidence of the Defendant’s expert was preferred. No allegations of negligence were made out.

7. As to limitation, the Claimant had had knowledge of his injury on leaving school running from his 18th birthday in October 1992. Following Robinson -v- St Helens, this was an action for personal injuries, notwithstanding the absence of a claim being clearly made in the Particulars of Claim. The claim became statute barred in October 1995. Three years elapsed before the claim had been issued. This was a long delay without explanation.

8. As to the discretion, it was clear that the delay had made the evidence less cogent. There had been loss of records, particularly with regard to the primary schools. The Defendant had been unable to trace the primary school teachers. Both Claimant’s and Defendant’s cases suffered by the delay causing the lack of records and the disappearance of witnesses. This claim should never have been brought and was at best “a broad swipe against the system”. In any event, the claim for financial loss had been wholly unrealistic.

Claim dismissed.


For further information with regard to this claim please contact Mark Fowles or Kate Winston.

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