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Special Needs

November 19, 2009

If you disagree with your local education authority about the way to meet your child’s special educational needs, you can make a complaint.

Who can you complain to?

Stage one

You should try to sort the problem out with the local education authority (LEA) first. The special educational needs (SEN) coordinating officer at your school, parent’s group or voluntary organisations can help you put your case to the LEA.

Stage two

If you are still unhappy you can take your case to a special educational needs tribunal (SENT). The appeal form will be enclosed in the reply from the LEA.

The SENT hears parents’ appeals against LEA decisions on statutory assessments and statements.

You have two months to appeal, dating from when you receive the LEA’s written decision.

When you send your notice of appeal form and reasons for appealing, you must enclose:

  • a copy of the LEA’s letter which gives the decision you are appealing against

  • a copy of the statement of special educational needs, if your child has one

  • a copy of all the papers attached to the statement (the appendices)

The LEA may decide to oppose your appeal. If they do, a tribunal hearing will take place at which you should be present. You will be given 10 days notice to attend the hearing, and you are allowed to take a representative and a maximum of two witnesses. Your representative may be a barrister or solicitor if you wish, but you will not get legal aid for this.

Your child does not have to attend the hearing, but may do so if you or your child wants his or her views to be taken into account separately from your own.

You will be sent the tribunal’s formal decision, together with the reasons for it, within 10 working days of the hearing. The whole process should be completed within four or five months (six months if August is included).

What grounds do you have to complain?

You can appeal to the tribunal if the LEA refuses to make a formal assessment of your child’s special educational needs, or refuses to issue a statement of your child’s special educational needs, after making a formal assessment.

If the LEA has made a statement of your child’s special educational needs, or has changed a previous statement they have made, you can appeal against:

  • the description in the statement of your child’s special educational needs

  • the description in the statement of the special educational help that the LEA thinks your child should get

  • the school named in the statement for your child to go to

  • the LEA’s not naming a school in the statement

You can also appeal if the LEA:

  • refuses to change the school named in the statement

  • refuses to re-assess your child’s special educational needs if they have not made a new assessment for at least six months

  • decides not to maintain the statement

You cannot appeal to the tribunal against:

  • the LEA’s refusal to assess your child if you did not ask for the assessment yourself

  • the LEA’s refusal to name an independent or non-maintained school if it has not issued a new or amended statement

  • the way the LEA carried out the assessment, or the length of time it took

  • the way the LEA is arranging to provide the help, for example, the level of funding it is providing, set out in your child’s statement

  • the way the school is meeting your child’s needs

  • the description in parts 5 and 6 (for example, transport costs) of the statement of your child’s non-educational needs or how the LEA plans to meet those needs

  • the LEA not amending the statement after the annual review

Will you get a fair hearing?

The special educational needs tribunal is independent of government and the LEAs. The chairperson is always a lawyer and the other two members of the panel will have experience of special educational needs and local government.

What will happen if you’re successful?

If the LEA or tribunal agrees with your complaint, the matter will be put right to your satisfaction.

The tribunal cannot award compensation, but you (and your child if attending) will be able to claim travel expenses for attending the hearing.

Anything else you can do?

If you are still not happy, you can complain to the relevant secretary of state that the school or the LEA is acting unreasonably or failing to carry out their duties. If the secretary of state agrees with your complaints, he/she may direct the school or the LEA to take action to put things right.

You may be able to make a complaint to the local government ombudsman if your complaint is about something which the tribunal cannot deal with. Some examples might be complaints about the LEA’s failure to:

  • keep within time limits

  • make sure that the help your child needs, as set out in the statement, is provided