Well judged

7th March 1997 at 00:00
Chris Gravell's defence of the special educational needs tribunal (TES, February 21) is welcome. The complaints from local authorities about the tribunal's work and about parental use of the tribunal are entirely misplaced, and seem to represent some sort of smokescreen with which to conceal local education authorities' own deficiencies.

LEAs have complained about the cost of defending cases at tribunal. But these costs are often self-inflicted, for they seem determined to defend the indefensible. A Court of Appeal judgment in 1989 ("The Lancashire Judgment") established that speech and language therapy for a child is educational provision, and therefore the responsibility of LEAs. The tribunal has upheld this principle on every occasion - it has no choice against the weight of Court of Appeal precedent. And yet LEAs continue to claim that speech and language therapy is not their affair - and defend this claim at tribunal. One can only assume that many LEAs are simply not conversant with special educational needs law. Such ignorance is expensive to the council taxpayer and distressing to the parents of children with speech and language impairments.

Perhaps one remedy might be, as Mr Gravell suggests, to give the tribunal the power to set legal precedents. This might prevent LEAs taking the same spurious arguments to tribunal time after time.

No one doubts that local authorities have difficulties. They are faced with formidable cash constraints - and at the same time they are asked to provide special education to an increasing number of statemented children. But it is time that they stopped blaming hard-pressed parents. They should seek to campaign in partnership with parents to secure the resources from central government which children with special educational needs so desperately need.

NORMA CORKISH AFASIC 347 Central Markets Smithfield London

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