SEND Tribunal Appeals at a record high

Tue,19 December 2023
News Education

The number of parents having to appeal Local Authority SEND decisions has reached a record high - with 13,658 in the last academic year (2022/23), Special Needs Jungle reports. This is an increase of 24% from the previous year, and four times the number of appeals since 2014/15 when the Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) was first introduced.  

This increase isn't unique to the last academic year but has been steeply climbing since 2014, as the year before (2022) saw a 29% increase in appeals. There has also been a record high in appeals being decided by a formal tribunal hearing - with more than two-thirds of completed appeals reaching a formal hearing last academic year. This number is 10 times higher than in 2014. 

The top three reasons for appeals are the contents of an EHCP (61%), refusal to assess (28%), and refusal to issue an EHCP (9%). 

Although there are also now twice as many statutory SEN plans than there were nearly 10 years ago, the increase in appeals and tribunals is still disproportionate to the increase in children identified as having SEND - as the number of appeals has quadrupled over the same period. 

Most concerning and revealing, however, is the increase in successful appeals. In other words, a 9-year trajectory of increasingly unlawful Local Authority decision-making and gatekeeping of a child's right to access an inclusive and safe education. In 2022/23, tribunals found in parent and carers favour 98.3% of the time. That means Local Authorities' initial decisions were found to be lawful less than 2% of the time. 

As highlighted by Special Needs Jungle, "The SEND Tribunal isn’t a marriage guidance counsellor and it doesn’t take “sides”; it applies the law. It looks at official decisions and amends them if law and evidence show that those decisions were faulty." 

Most staggering is the waste of resources. As many Local Authorities face bankruptcy during the cost of living crisis, parents of Disabled children are often blamed for squeezing the Local Government purse. But, as the cost of living has increased, as has spending at tribunal rather than making lawful decisions from the start. In 2021/22, £73 million was spent taking families to tribunal. Last year this spending reached £99.2 million. 

Since 2014, £425.6 million has been spent by Local Authorities taking parents to tribunal. 

Bethany Bale, DR UK Education Policy and Campaigns Officer, said "This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how broken the SEND system is. These numbers are staggering, but we know that these will be the parents who had the time, understanding and resources to be able to get as far as tribunal - this is not the case for so many. 

The argument is always that SEND provision costs too much money but it's clear that the current gatekeeping approach spends far more money placing additional barriers and fighting parents than it does delivering support in the first place. The chronic underfunding of SEND provision by the Government has led to a £3 billion shortfall, according to the National Education Union

Disabled children make up 15% of the school population and they deserve to enjoy their education and reach their full potential as much as their non-disabled peers. Our rights are clearly protected under both the Equality Act 2010 and the Children's and Families Act 2014, yet Local Government continues to fail to deliver on its legal obligations, and Central Government show no commitment to their international obligations under the UNCRPD. 

Central Government must commit to investing in SEND provision so Local Authorities are able to deliver support, and a system of accountability must be introduced for Local Authorities acting unlawfully.