Part 1: The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal - Who are they?

In this first of three articles about the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal, we look at what the Tribunal is, what it can deal with and relevant time limits.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SEND or SENDIST) consider appeals against decisions taken by a local authority about how it intends to support a person with special educational needs.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal is part of the Health, Education and Social Care Chamber of the First Tier Tribunal. It is part of Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Service (HMCTS).

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal tries to be as informal as possible. However, the Tribunal is responsible for hearing appeals and deciding on questions of fact and law. That means that some formalities are unavoidable.

The most contact you will have with the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal will be via letter or telephone. The offices of the Tribunal are based on the upper floor of Darlington Magistrates Court.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal operates and manages case by Tribunal Judges. They are supported by three teams:

  • Admin & Registrations team – responsible for general administration and logging the start of appeals
  • Processing team – responsible to ensuring that appeals are managed from start to final hearing
  • Notice of Hearing & Listings team – responsible for listing hearings, finding locations and notifying parties

During the build-up to making an appeal you will have to send in information about your appeal and any evidence that you want the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal to consider. It is possible that the local authority will agree with you before the hearing and the appeal is resolved.

If you do need to go to final hearing, you will have to explain your case to a panel of three judges. One will be a lawyer and the other two will be special educational needs specialists – normally teachers, head teachers or Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCO).

If your appeal is about a refusal to assess special educational needs, the panel will normally be two people. One will be a lawyer and the other a special educational needs specialist. If you are appealing the content of a Statement of Special Educational Needs (Statement of SEN) it is also likely that you will have two judges rather than three. In complex cases about a Statement, however, you will likely have three judges.

The lawyer is the chairperson of the panel. That means that in cases of two-judge panels, the lawyer’s decision will be the determinative one if the other judge disagrees. In a three person panel, the two specialists can overrule the chairperson.

What can be appealed?

It is worth knowing what you can appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal. If your issue is not something that can be appealed you will need to consider complaints to the local authority, Local Government Ombudsman and even Judicial Review.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal can consider appeals about:

  • A refusal to conduct an EHC needs assessment
  • A refusal to issue an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP)
  • A refusal to conduct a reassessment of special educational needs
  • The description of special educational needs within the EHCP or Statement of SEN
  • The special education provision detailed in the EHCP or Statement of SEN
  • The school or college named in the EHCP or Statement of SEN
  • No school named in EHCP or Statement of SEN
  • A decision to cease to maintain an EHCP

Time limits on appeals

The time limit on making an appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal about a Statement of SEN is two months from the date of the decision.

If you are appealing about an EHC needs assessment or EHCP, you must now also consider mediation. If the appeal is purely about the school named in the Plan this is not necessary. If mediation has to be considered, you will need to contact the local mediation service that the local authority works with before you can appeal.

Once you have spoken with a mediation service you will be issued with a mediation certificate. This certificate must be sent to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal when you appeal.

If your case is one which requires a mediation certificate, your deadline to appeal is either two months from the date of the decision made by the local authority, or one month from the date of the mediation certificate, whichever is later.

In the next article in our series we will be looking at how to make an appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal.

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