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Number of tribunals for special needs soars

Record numbers of parents have taken legal action to improve the education offered to children with special educational needs (SEN), figures show.

The number of SEN tribunals has risen by 64 per cent in 12 years, and by 16 per cent since 2008, statistics reveal.

Experts say the soaring use of the tribunals service is a result of radical changes to the way teachers and local authorities organise education and funding for children with statements.

Many councils are no longer directly funding extra support for pupils with statements, giving money to headteachers instead.

Staff at Independent Parental Special Education Advice (IPSEA), which advises families with SEN children, said this has led to pupils missing out when budgets run short, especially if "high-cost" pupils join schools unexpectedly.

Jane McConnell, chief executive at IPSEA, said the growth is also due to more parents "knowing their rights".

"It's a good thing that they feel able to challenge their local authority's decision-making," she said. "But this doesn't mean councils don't try to intimidate parents; a huge percentage of cases are still settled in the final two weeks before they come to court."

In 20089 3,100 tribunal cases were held, which rose to 3,400 in 200910, according to the annual report of the tribunal service.

By 201011 the number of cases is expected to rise to 3,600. In 1998 just 2,191 families took their SEN case to tribunal.

The tribunal system was changed last year to make it similar to others run by the Ministry of Justice, and to make it more efficient.

Chairman and specialist members have been renamed "judges", and the cases are managed in a bid to stop local authorities leaving preparations until the last minute.

It is hoped this might lead to more cases being settled before coming to court.

64% - Percentage increase in the number of SEN tribunals in the last 12 years.

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