Increasingly, parents and carers are having to turn to the courts in order to secure and/or enforce the education to which their children and young people are legally entitled. Specifically, they are turning to The First Tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) or the SEND Tribunal. Last year (2020-21) there were 8,600 new appeals registered with the SEND Tribunal; up from barely 4000 a decade ago. The appeals primarily concern refusals to conduct Education and Health Care Needs Assessments (EHCNAs) (27% in 2020-21), refusals to issue Education and Health Care Plans (EHC Plans) and appeals about the content of EHC Plans; including placement (59% in 2020-21). The SEND Tribunal also, although much less frequently, hears cases involving allegations of disability discrimination against schools (170 such appeals were registered in 2020-21). Disability Discrimination claims against colleges and other Post-16 institutions are heard by the County Court. Appeals by parents and carers are overwhelming successful before the SEND Tribunal; in 2020-21 the success rate was 96%.
The SEND Tribunal is a wholly independent legal body and it is entirely free to use. It has the power to order local authorities to carry out EHCNAs and to issue and amend EHC Plans. If it determines that a school has unlawfully discriminated against a child on the grounds of their disability, the SEND Tribunal can order a school to apologise, change their behaviour policy or reinstate an excluded pupil; among other things. It does not, however, have the power to award any financial compensation. The decisions of the SEND Tribunal must be followed by local authorities, and the SEND Tribunal itself is bound to follow decisions of the more senior Upper Tribunal, as well as those of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
The SEND Tribunal works by considering all the information (evidence) put before it and determining whether the local authority followed the law in making the decision(s) under appeal. It will look at all relevant evidence, including that of professionals such as Educational Psychologists and Occupational Therapists that parents/carers have instructed and paid for themselves.
The website for the SEND Tribunal contains links to various forms and guidance on how to appeal and what happens at a Hearing. SEND Advocacy is able to prepare, submit and manage the appeals process for you from start to finish, including representation before the SEND Tribunal. If you need someone in your corner to help you secure the education your child deserves, contact us today.