The Department for Education (DfE) has issued guidance for stakeholders taking part in a two-year trial to extend the powers of the First-tier Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Tribunal.
Currently parents and young people can appeal decisions concerning Education, Health and Care (EHC) needs assessments and plans where this relates to the SEN and provision or placement elements.
The national trial, which starts on 3 April, extends this to recommendations about their health and social care needs and provision. This applies for all SEND appeals apart from those that are only about assessing needs.
The trial follows a pilot undertaken by 17 local authorities (LAs) between June 2015 and August 2016 as part of a Government-commissioned review. This showed most stakeholders supported the principle of a single route of redress. It also showed that the extended powers stimulated more cross-sectoral working and helped resolve disagreements before they reached the hearing stage. However, there were too few pilot appeals to robustly assess potential changes.
The new guidance explains what stakeholders must do to update their systems, policies and procedures, and prescribes timetables for mediation and appeals.
It also urges LAs to carefully consider Tribunal recommendations on social care despite them being non-binding. It says any reason for not following them must be explained and set out in writing to the parents or young person, and points out that if dissatisfied they can seek recourse via the Ombudsman or judicial review.
Independent Parental Special Education Advice (IPSEA) welcomed the national trial when it was announced last October, but said:
Whilst we support the single route of redress, our concern remains that the Tribunal’s recommendations for health and social care partners will be non-binding. Although we would generally hope that recommendations made by the Tribunal are followed, should this not be the case, families will be required to complain to an Ombudsman or, in exceptional circumstances, make an application for judicial review. This places an additional and unnecessary burden on families of children with SEND.