Appeals on rise again over needs

2nd December 2005 at 00:00
Parents of children with special needs made more appeals against education authority decisions this year, despite a fall in the number of challenges last year.

Cases brought to the special educational needs tribunal for Wales (SENTW) rose from 117 in 20034 to 127 in 20045, according to its second annual report.

SENTW attributed a 15 per cent decrease in the number of appeals last year, from 139 to 117, to possible greater communication between parents and local education authorities. But a spokesman for SENTW said that he could not explain this year's increase.

Last year, more than half of all appeals were against LEA decisions not to provide a statement - a legally binding document entitling a child to special-needs support. According to the tribunal's latest annual report, that figure has fallen to 36 per cent this year.

A spokesman for SENTW said: "We have noticed that appeals are now more to do with the contents of statements, such as the description of a child's needs."

At Rhondda Cynon Taf's education authority, which is trying to reduce the number of statements, there were just two appeals against its decisions this year compared to four last year.

Ceirion Williams, RCT's acting head of access and inclusion services, said:

"The key is good communication with parents. Obviously we have some disagreements about provision but our frontline workers make sure parents are on board from day one and fully involved in decisions."

Nearly a third of appeals to SENTW in 20045 involved autistic spectrum disorders, followed by learning difficulties, with 16 per cent of children involved having multiple special needs.

Half of the appeals involved just two LEAs - Cardiff (33) and Newport (30).

Terry Mackie, an independent education consultant, said the number of appeals would be reduced if schools and LEAs shared more information about special-needs provision.

"Going to tribunal is the last resort for parents, and the way to stop it getting that far is to make sure they are involved early on to settle disputes," he said.

In the past 12 months, 26 cases have been upheld, 45 withdrawn by parents and 42 conceded by LEAs. The tribunal heard just one claim of disability discrimination this year and two the year before.

Lynne Hill, policy director at charity Children in Wales, said parents and disabled young people needed more information about the SENTW's role.

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