Special education needs - law & tribunals

Schools have an obligation to provide support to children who require it. This may include the position where your child has a disability which prevents them from making use of the school facilities or difficulty in accessing education (when compared to children of the same age).

Each school must have a special educational needs coordinator who is responsible for this and support may be offered at three levels:

  • School action
  • School action plus
  • Statement of special educational needs

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Special educational needs coordinators

School action is support provided to the pupil by the school within their budget and resources and may be used on a daily basis to support children. An individual education plan will be prepared (which parents should be involved in) to set objectives for the support being provided and this will be reviewed on at least twice per year and ideally every term.

School action plus involves input from other support services such as speech and language specialists or psychologists in addition to the above and the review of the individual education plan may lead to this if support being offered in school action is not meeting the objectives.

In more complex cases, a full assessment may need to be undertaken to determine whether a statement of special educational needs is required.

The SEN is a legal document and is subject to an annual review. As a parent you should be involved in its preparation.

The process can be complex and drawn out (which may add to the stress of the situation).

  • Following a request, the local authority has 6 weeks to decide if they will carry out an assessment. During that time you will have the chance to say why you feel your child needs a Statement of SEN. 
  • The local education authority will then make a decision on whether to conduct an assessment. If they refuse, there could be a right of appeal to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal within two months of the decision.
  • If the authority agree to undertake the assessment then this will be commenced. The authority must then let you know whether they will write a statement within 12 weeks of commencing the assessment. If they refuse, there may be an appeal to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal.
  • A draft statement will be prepared for your comments on the proposals and you will only have 15 days to respond. If you disagree you can make representations to the authority. A meeting may also be arranged to discuss matters.
  • A final statement of special educational needs will then be provided within 8 weeks. If you disagree with the statement then this can be appealed to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal as above (within two months of the decision).

The tribunal is independent. It will look at the evidence you provide (this may include expert reports) and consider whether the authority has followed the correct procedure set out in the code of practice in making its decision. 

Our team can assist you with initial liaison with the school to identify needs and obtain an individual education plan, requesting a statutory assessment, reviewing the statement of special educational needs through to representation at the tribunal appealing the refusal to provide a statement of special educational needs.

The Special Educational Needs & Disability Tribunal

You may appeal to the First Tier Tribunal (SEND) in the following circumstances:

  • A refusal to carry out a statutory special educational needs assessment
  • A refusal to make a statement following a special educational needs assessment
  • Contents of the statement of special educational needs including
    • The description of the special educational needs
    • The description of the help required to meet the special educational needs
    • The type of school named or failure to name a specific school within part 4 of the statement
  • A refusal to change the name of the school in Part 4 to another school
  • A refusal to reassess the child’s special educational needs (if over 6 months since last assessment)
  • The withdrawal of a statement
  • A refusal to amend or review a statement annually

Any appeal in relation to the above must be lodged within two months of the decision so time is of the essence.

Discrimination claims

The tribunal can also hear cases concerning discrimination in schools, but is unable to make any awards of financial compensation. Claims concerning this must be brought within 6 months.

Alternatively, an action for damages can be pursued via the County Court.

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