New figures from the Ministry of Justice show clearly the extent to which local authorities routinely and unlawfully deny children and young people with SEND the special educational provision and support they need. 

We know from calls to IPSEA’s Advice Line and Tribunal Helpline that more families than ever need help securing the SEND provision to which their children are legally entitled. 

The latest figures show a record number of appeals to the SEND Tribunal in 2021-22. Appeals are made against local authority decisions on things such as refusal to carry out an EHC needs assessment, refusal to issue an EHC plan after assessment, the contents of a child or young person’s EHC plan, or the school or college to which the child or young person should go. 

There were 11,052 new appeals to the Tribunal in the last year – an increase of 29% from the year before. Out of 5,600 Tribunal hearings last year, only 3.7% of decisions made by local authorities were upheld. The vast majority were ruled by the Tribunal to be unlawful. 

The Department for Education made clear in the SEND green paper “Right support, right place, right time” published earlier this year that it wants the SEND system to be less adversarial, and it wants to see a reduction in the number of appeals. In our response to the proposals in the green paper, we said that the best way to achieve this is by making sure that local authorities comply with the law, take lawful decisions first time and fulfil their duties to children and young people. 

Currently, the SEND system is broken because it lacks local accountability. It is riddled with unlawful decision-making in local areas, with no negative consequences for local decision-makers – only for children and young people with SEND. 

The system works when parents enforce it. But any accountability that exists flows from individual parents bringing complaints or appeals – an option that is not available for every family. The onus is firmly on families to know, understand and enforce their children’s legal rights.