MoJ data suggests 95% of SEN tribunal cases lost, withdrawn or conceded by local authorities, claims charity

Some 95% of decisions at special educational needs tribunals in 2017/18 were either won by parents, or saw local authorities withdraw or concede, it has been claimed.

Charity Ambitious about Autism said its analysis of Ministry of Justice data had shown that councils contested 5,000 special educational needs tribunals over the 12 months. Of these cases, 2,458 were about children with autism.

The charity said the MoJ’s data revealed that 4,738 of the 5,000 cases were lost, withdrawn or conceded by local authorities.

Ambitious for Autism also sent freedom of information requests to local authority about the total amount spent handling and contesting special educational needs tribunals.

The total amount spent in 2017/18 by the 107 local authorities who responded was £4.3m – an increase of £846,000 (24%) on the previous year.

Ambitious for Autism said that for cases involving autistic pupils, the most common challenge from parents was about a local authority’s decision not to assess children for an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan.

EHC plans place a statutory requirement on local authorities to provide extra resources for a child’s educational, health and care needs. 

Jolanta Lasota, Chief Executive of Ambitious about Autism, said: “Drawn out legal battles with local authorities are exhausting for families – both emotionally and very often financially.

“We’ve spoken to parents who have sold their homes, lost their life savings or had to change their retirement plans due to the costs involved in simply trying to get their children the educational support they deserve.”

Lasota added: “The fact that the majority of special educational needs cases are being won by parents or conceded by local authorities is a clear sign that initial decisions about educational support are not being made in the best interests of the young person.

“However, the lengthy legal process to correct these mistakes means children are waiting far too long to get the support they need to thrive in school. This delay has damaging consequences on children’s happiness and ability to thrive academically.”

Ambitious for Autism said evidence given in Parliament had revealed that there has been a 50% increase in SEND tribunals over the last three years – with 20 new judges reportedly due to start work to cope with extra caseload this September.

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