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Surge in parents appealing over special needs provision

New figures show a 20 per cent increase in SEND tribunal cases, with the majority being won by the parents

There has been a surge in the number of SEND tribunals

New figures show a 20 per cent increase in SEND tribunal cases, with the majority being won by the parents

There has been a surge in the number of special education needs tribunal appeals against local council decisions, with parents winning the majority of cases.

New figures show that 5,679 appeals were made in the 2017-18 academic year, up 20 per cent on the year before.

Almost half of these, 2,458, related to pupils with autism.

The new data shows that in 2,298 cases a tribunal hearing decided the outcome, with 1,518 appeals successful.

The figures show that in 260 cases the original decision was upheld. 

One parent has accused councils of going through the legal tribunal process because it is cheaper than meeting a child’s needs.

The Special Educational Needs & Disability First-Tier Tribunal hears cases where parents or carers have appealed against a local authority decision about their child’s education.

Going to tribunal 'cheaper for councils'

Parent Matt Keer said one of the main reasons for the increase in cases is the “poor quality conversion of statements of special educational needs".

In a new blogpost, on the Special Needs Jungle site he wrote: “Local authorities were supposed to convert all remaining statements over to the new system [of education, health and care plans (EHCPs)] by April 2018 – but by late last year, local authorities still had a big backlog of statements to convert and tens of thousands of statement conversions were hurried through in the 2017-18 period.

“We had big concerns about the quality of these statement conversions, and it looks like families did, too. About 60 per cent of the increase in [first-tier tribunal] appeal numbers this year come from families contesting the substance of EHCPs.”

The new figures indicate that 66 per cent of tribunal hearings were won by families.

But Mr Keer said the actual proportion is higher because the new figures do not include cases where a council had refused to make an assessment for an education, health and care plan and was then told to do so.

In his blog, he addd: “The process is cynically deployed as a demand-management tool – one where a lengthy tribunal can often be cheaper for the local authority than actually meeting the child’s needs right away, right when the child needs it.

“Yes, local authorities are desperately short of SEND funding. But when it comes to tribunal defence, money is always, always available.”

Earlier this year, MPs were told 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.

Labour MP Thelma Walker said a delegation of parents whose children have SEND told her that they had 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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