Education or Social Care for Young People: Understanding the Law


We often hear from young people who’ve been informed by the Local Authority (LA) that they’ll no longer maintain their Education, Health, and Care plan (EHCp) because they’re not pursuing academic qualifications. Instead, they’re advised to transition to social care services. Is this approach lawful? No.


Let’s delve into the case of Buckinghamshire County Council v SJ [2016] UKUT 0254 (AAC). This case addressed issues around capacity and the necessity of following academic subjects for an LA to maintain an EHCP. It was established that developing functional or vocational skills is appropriate, and all special educational needs should be met by providing the necessary special educational provision.


Here is a summary of the decision:


Capacity Issue:

The case dealt with a capacity issue involving a young person named Ryan, born on 22 February 1996, diagnosed with various conditions. His parents sought to be welfare deputies under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, but the request was denied. The Court of Protection ruled that disputes about Ryan’s residence should be resolved by the court, not a deputy. The focus then shifted to whether an Education, Health, and Care (EHC) plan was necessary for Ryan.


Young Persons and Capacity Issues:

The decision outlined three scenarios related to a young person’s capacity: having capacity, lacking capacity, or having capacity in doubt. The analysis delved into the legal framework, regulations, and the role of an “alternative person” when a young person lacks capacity. An “alternative person” in the context of special educational needs (SEN) refers to an individual who can act as a representative or advocate for a young person with SEN, for example in the process of obtaining an Education, Health, and Care plan (EHCP). The term “alternative person” is used to ensure that the young person has appropriate representation in the planning and decision-making process related to their special educational needs.



First-tier Tribunal’s Decision on Ryan:

The First-tier Tribunal considered Ryan’s case, where the local authority refused to issue an EHC Plan, arguing that further education wouldn’t significantly benefit him. The tribunal allowed the appeal, directing the local authority to issue a plan.


Arguments and Grounds for Appeal:

The local authority appealed, claiming the tribunal failed to consider whether Ryan’s needs could be met at the care home, that a plan was unnecessary for specified therapies, and that Ryan’s minimal progress meant a plan wasn’t warranted. The tribunal rejected these arguments, emphasising its jurisdiction and the need to stay within its limits.


Tribunal’s Decision Not in Error:

The Upper Tribunal affirmed that the First-tier Tribunal’s decision was not in error. It dismissed the local authority’s appeal, highlighting that the tribunal correctly focused on the issues presented by the parties. The decision emphasised that qualifications were not essential for education, and Ryan could still benefit from educational provision.



This case is a useful reference if an LA argues that only the pursuit of academic qualifications justifies maintaining an EHCP.


The full decision is available here:



2nd December 2023

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