Agnew admits government 'concerned' about SEND tribunal costs

Challenges to special education needs decisions jumped 20 per cent last year

A former school chaplain is to stand trial, accused of indecently assaulting a pupil

Schools minister Lord Agnew has admitted the government is “concerned” about the rising cost of appeals against special education needs and disability (SEND) funding cuts.

Cash-strapped local authorities have faced a growing wave of legal challenges as parents fight against reductions in support for pupils with SEND.

In 2017-18 the number of cases brought to tribunals jumped 20 per cent from the previous year to 5,679.

Parents won two-thirds of the cases, according to the official figures, almost half of which related to autistic pupils.

Speaking in the House of Lords, Liberal Democrat Lord Storey said the problem could grow as 2,000 children with education and health care plans (ECHPs) are currently without support.

“Aren’t we in danger of replicating what is happening in the National Health Service where litigation costs become astronomical?” he asked.

In response, Lord Agnew admitted that “we [the government] are concerned about tribunal costs”.

But he said the government had started monitoring local authority decisions and found only a fraction were challenged in tribunals.

“It showed that of all the decisions made in the year by local authorities only 1.5 per cent were appealed by parents,” he told the House.

“A number of authorities are having zero or near zero appeals, so the challenge for us is to spread the good practice of those local authorities that have very low levels of appeal.”

Support for children with SEND has become a political issue for the government after years of per-pupil funding cuts.

Children with SEND are four times as likely to be excluded than other pupils and the government has launched a review into exclusions.

Last year MPs heard that councils were “stringing out” decisions about care plans for children with SEND to save money.

The Commons Education Select Committee was told in a hearing in October about one child who had started self-harming because of delays in receiving support.

Some parents whose children have SEND have even decided to home-school them because they had waited so long to have education and health care plans put in place.

 

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