The SEND Tribunal is currently receiving more appeals than ever before. As a result, hearing dates are being set very far in advance. In some cases, over 26 weeks away.

Hearings take place either ‘on the papers’ (see below) or orally. An oral hearing may take place remotely or face-to-face.

What can I expect?

At least 10 working days before the hearing you will be informed of the venue (or dial-in details if it is to be held remotely) and exact time of the hearing.  If you can’t make the date or time of the hearing, you should tell the SEND Tribunal. A hearing date change is more likely to be agreed if you can show that it is in the interests of justice and the LA has agreed in advance.

There are videos explaining what a SEND Tribunal hearing is like and films explaining video hearings at the SEND Tribunal on YouTube.

For more information on specific types of appeal see the sections on appeals about a refusal to assessrefusal to issue an EHC plan, the contents of an EHC plan or the school other setting named in an EHC plan.

‘On the papers’ hearings

This means the SEND Tribunal will decide the appeal by looking at and considering all the written evidence you and the LA have submitted. Unlike an oral hearing, neither you or the LA will attend a hearing.

One benefit of this type of hearing is that the timescale for the SEND Tribunal to decide a case without a physical hearing is much quicker (nearer 12-16 weeks). If you decide you want your appeal heard this way on the basis that it might be quicker, you should contact the SEND Tribunal first to check if that would be the case.

For refusal to assess appeals, there will often be no physical hearing and these appeals are often heard this way. 

However, both parties need to agree to the appeal being heard ‘on the papers’. If one party does not agree to it, an oral hearing must be held.

Oral hearings

These can take place face-to-face but are much more routinely offered remotely. If you require an in-person hearing or a hybrid remote/ in-person hearing as part of any reasonable adjustments you need, let the SEND Tribunal know as soon as you can.

You should bring the bundle of paperwork you received from the LA to your hearing.

The hearing will be led by a ‘panel’. For most hearings, this will be two people – a judge and a specialist member with substantial experience of SEN and disabilities. In some cases there may be a third member of the panel, but this is not typical. The panel will have read the bundle and have spent time reviewing the case together before you arrive/ join online. They will have identified the key issues and decided which panel member is going to ask the questions about which issue.

The panel will ask questions and take the lead. The panel will give each party a turn to speak and ask witnesses questions. You will find it helpful to take notes while others are talking and to record useful things to mention at the end when you are asked to briefly sum up your case.

Although the SEND Tribunal is not as formal as many court hearings, there are certain formalities, for example you should call the judge on the panel Judge and the lay panel members Sir/Madam. 

If your hearing is face-to-face, be aware that hearings will not necessarily be held in a venue which is local to you so do check the location and travelling times if you are attending in-person.

Bringing your child to an oral hearing

In the case of an appeal about a child being brought by a parent, the child can attend the hearing and the SEND Tribunal may allow the child to give evidence and to address the SEND Tribunal.

You must inform the SEND Tribunal in advance if you intend to bring your child. Usually the child will come in and see the panel with one person from each side for a chat prior to the hearing. The panel probably won’t want to discuss the case with the child in attendance.

The SEND Tribunal does not have facilities to look after children so parents must make arrangements for the child to be looked after or taken home once they have met the panel.

Prioritised hearings

The SEND Tribunal will prioritise hearings appeals about section I (the name and/or type of school or institution) for children and young people approaching a phase transfer. We understand that placement appeals that include the contents of the EHC plan will not be prioritised in the same way and therefore probably will not be heard before the start of the new academic year. You should make the SEND Tribunal aware as soon as possible if the appeal involves a phase transfer placement and you can ask for an earlier hearing date if so. 

There are other reasons that a child or young person may need an urgent hearing, such as children/young people out of education and you should bring this to the SEND Tribunal’s attention too.

Rescheduled hearings

Given that the SEND Tribunal needs to prioritise hearing dates for those out of education or approaching phase transfer, many will be rescheduled. 

You should refer to the fact your child or young person is out of education or approaching a phase transfer in your SEND35A appeal form or SEND35 appeal form and within the subject line of the email in which you submit your appeal form. If you have other exceptional circumstances that require an urgent hearing, then also make this clear in your appeal form and email.  

If you are told that your hearing has been postponed and wish to object to this you should email the SEND Tribunal with reasons as soon as possible. If the SEND Tribunal has failed to identify that the child/young person is out of education or approaching a phase transfer you should bring this to its attention. If there are other reasons why a delay to your hearing will be particularly detrimental, such as mental health issues of the child or young person or the risk of permanent exclusion, you should also raise these.

The letter or email you receive from the SEND Tribunal rescheduling the hearing will be an order inviting the parties to consider if the appeal could be concluded ‘on the papers’. If you agree to your appeal being this way, you should send an email consenting to this to the SEND Tribunal as soon as possible.

Where hearings are rescheduled to take place in the Autumn term of the school year, it is possible to ask the SEND Tribunal to arrange a hearing in August. If this is relevant to you, please see the section below.

August hearings

The SEND Tribunal can hear cases in August but it won’t force you and the LA to attend a hearing in the school holidays.

If witnesses are available and you and the LA agree, you can ask for a hearing in August. If witnesses aren’t going to be available or the LA doesn’t agree to a hearing date in the summer, in an urgent case you could take advice on whether to ask the SEND Tribunal to decide your case ‘on the papers’ (see above). You can book an appointment with one of our trained Tribunal Helpline volunteers or use IPSEA’s Call in Helpline.

The annual review is due before the hearing. Should it still go ahead?

Yes. In the case of appeals about the contents of EHC plans, it is likely that an annual review will take place before the appeal is concluded. This is because an annual review must take place within 12 months of the last review, or of the date the EHC plan was first issued, and this is not affected by an ongoing appeal.

The annual review could be an opportunity to try and resolve some of the issues in dispute. If the LA issues a new amended EHC plan after the annual review, this new plan is valid and enforceable and replaces the plan that has been appealed.

If there are still parts of the EHC plan you are unhappy with, you can ask the SEND Tribunal to treat the new EHC plan as a working document in the current appeal, rather than registering a new appeal.