Special Educational Needs: SEN pupils could get power of appeal

21st August 2009 at 01:00
Children would be able to bring legal action independently of their parents

Original paper headline: SEN pupils could get power of appeal

Children with special needs will be able to appeal independently of parents when they are unhappy with their school or teaching, if government plans get the green light.

According to a new consultation, giving secondary pupils the legal powers will make the process fairer for those with families unwilling or unable to act on their behalf.

Department for Children, Schools and Families officials believe the decision to give children new rights is in line with the general principle of "pupil voice" - giving them more say in decisions that affect them.

They are concerned too few cases are referred to the Special Educational Needs and Disability tribunals - especially those involving looked-after children or those from ethnic minorities. In the 200708 academic year, 3,392 tribunal appeals were registered but just 1,040 got through to the hearing stage.

Only 15 per cent of appeals came from non-white parents, just four from Bangladeshi families, 57 from black African, 54 from black Caribbean and 12 from people of Chinese origin.

The majority - 40 per cent - of appeals concern a school or local authority's refusal to assess the child. Around 48 per cent of cases are brought by parents unhappy with the contents of all or part of their child's statement.

The DCSF consultation papers said a "competency measure" could be introduced to make sure the child has the right level of understanding to co-ordinate the legal action.

SEN experts say children with "corporate parents" are actually more likely to need support when mounting a legal challenge.

Special Educational Consortium chairman Brian Lamb believes looked-after children should be able to ask a social worker, teacher or other impartial adult to refer their case to a tribunal.

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates says there is a risk that children could be exploited by adults, who encourage them to bring appeals just to "advance inappropriately" their own views. She also thinks the changes will lead to an increase in the number of appeals and costs.

"It remains the case that children and young people may be subject to manipulation by their parents and be inveigled to submit an appeal when it may not be the child or young person's wish that an appeal is made," she said.

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