Lancashire families fighting for better disabled children's education

Relatives are taking council chiefs to court secure better deals for youngsters

Lancashire families applied to tribunals to overturn more than 100 council decisions on disabled children’s education last year, figures reveal.

Ministry of Justice data shows 143 appeals were submitted to the Special Educational Needs and Disability tribunal in Lancashire in 2020.

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The number was up from 138 the year before and up from 90 appeals in 2014.

Lancashire families appealed more than 100 council rulings on disabled children's education

Children and young people who require extra support for their education are assessed by the local authority.

If it is deemed their needs cannot be met in mainstream education, an Education Health and Care plan is issued, defining the support the child needs.

This is reviewed every 12 months.

Families who disagree with the local authority’s decision not to assess or reassess a child, or not to change their Education Health and Care plan, can lodge an appeal to the SEND tribunal.

In 2020, 8,185 decisions which had the potential of being appealed were made across Lancashire, with families appealing 1.7 per cent of them to the tribunal – lower than the 1.8 per cent rate the year before, and the 1.8 per cent rate recorded in 2014.

Some council decisions cannot be appealed through the tribunal and can only be dealt with via the authority’s own complaints procedure.

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Disability charity Contact said the system for getting support in school was not working for many children and dedicated funding was needed to prevent an increase in SEND appeals in the future.

Amanda Batten, Contact’s chief executive, said it was likely the rate of appeals dropped last year as families were busy caring for their children at home.

She said: “Families were so busy not only home schooling, but also being nurse, physio and therapist.

“While the guidance was that schools remain open to some children with SEN during lockdown, in practice many were not in school.

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“In addition, the support disabled children sometimes access through school including physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and psychotherapy disappeared, and in some cases they are still not back to pre-pandemic levels.”

Across England, while the number of appeals registered rose to 7,843 in 2020, the proportion of outcomes appealed dropped slightly to 1.7 per cent, from 1.8 per cent in 2019.

The Department for Education said the extension of EHC plans from school-age children to under-25s, as well as a trial to allow tribunals to make other recommendations, explained the rise in the number of appeals.

The Government recently announced it was increasing the SEND funding for local authorities by £780m this financial year, and a further £730m in 2022-23.

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A Department for Education spokesman said: “We know the impact of the pandemic has been particularly hard for many children and young people, including those with special educational needs or disabilities. That’s why we kept schools open to vulnerable pupils where possible during restrictions.

“The vast majority of decisions around Education, Health and Care needs assessments and plans are concluded without the need to resort to tribunal hearings.

“But we know there is further to go – so to impact long-term change, our cross-government SEND review will look to ensure the SEND system is consistent, high quality, and integrated across education, health and care.”