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Dyslexia cases lead appeals league

More than half the cases finding their way to the new special educational needs tribunal for appeals have been from the parents of dyslexic children, according to statistics released this week.

Nearly 700 appeals have been lodged with the tribunal since it started last September and, as widely predicted, the highly-organised dyslexia lobby has accounted for by far the largest proportion - 51 per cent.

The tribunal was set up under the 1993 Education Act to provide a new, independent appeals route for parents seeking a statement of special needs from their local education authority.

A statement is a formal description of the child's problem, and often brings with it a promise of additional financial support. Until last year, the only source of redress against an unsatisfactory statement was an appeal to the same LEA.

This week the tribunal issued its first digest of the cases it has heard.

The main types of appeal were against an LEA's refusal to make a statement (29 per cent); the contents of a statement (25 per cent); a refusal to conduct a preliminary assessment (20 per cent); and against the school named in the statement (18 per cent).

Dyslexia or specific learning difficulties accounted for 51 per cent of appeals. Emotional and behavioural difficulties, moderate learning difficulties, severe learning difficulties, and speech and language problems each accounted for 7 per cent.

Parents in half the cases had some representation and one in five had legal representation. The tribunal has found that cases involving solicitors or barristers have taken longer than average.

The separate panels which hear cases around the country are so far completing most of their hearings in half a day, the target time. The tribunal aims to deal with 30 cases a week. It is currently hearing 20 a week and has heard 143.

So far 121 decisions have been issued with 60 per cent either fully or partly in the parents' favour. The remainder were dismissed. The average time for an appeal to work its course is four months.

The digest of cases, all anonymous, includes one where a local authority decided to stop a boy's statement for specific learning difficulties, claiming that he could be dealt with out of the school's own finances under stage 3 of the code of practice. The tribunal disagreed and ordered the council to maintain the statement.

In another case, the tribunal found against parents who wanted their child with Down's syndrome to attend a mainstream secondary school. This, however, would have cost up to Pounds 20,500 a year, in comparison with Pounds 8, 800 for a special school. The tribunal decided that mainstream schools could not cope and that it would be an inefficient use of resources.

A grant-maintained school was ordered to accept a child with specific learning difficulties who was vulnerable to teasing and bullying. Many of her friends had moved to the school, but she was refused a place.

Noting the risk of additional psychological problems, the tribunal said she must be admitted.

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