Council leaders call for reform of ‘adversarial’ SEND system

By William Eichler | 11 March 2022

Council leaders have called on the Government to tackle the rise in tribunals over special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) disagreements as they warn the system has become ‘adversarial’.

A new study by the Local Government Association (LGA) revealed that the 2014 reforms aimed at improving the lives of children with SEND had led to a dramatic rise in the use of tribunals to settle disputes.

Appeals to tribunals over SEND disagreements have more than doubled since the reforms, rising by 111% between 2013-14 and 2020-21.

Before the reforms, more disagreements were resolved before they got to a formal tribunal hearing, with around a fifth of appeals (21%) decided at a tribunal, whereas now the figure is almost two-thirds (64%).

The proportion of decisions appealed has also gone up from 1.16% at the time of the reforms to 1.74% in 2020.

Chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, Anntoinette Bramble, said: ‘It is vital the Government’s SEND review urgently tackles the increasingly adversarial nature of the SEND system since the 2014 reforms, and minimises the need for legal disputes and tribunal hearings.

'The soaring number of tribunal hearings over the SEND support provided to a young person and the overwhelming number decided in the appellant’s favour is indicative of a system that is not working.

‘The SEND reforms introduced in 2014 while of the very best intentions have, unfortunately, not delivered.'

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