Special educational needs statements carry legal force. A 2011 proposal to remove that protection was dropped after fierce criticism by disability campaigners and lawyers. As our feature on SEN shows (see related stories), the suspicion that councils would use weakened protections to cut support to children and young adults seems well founded.
At a time of austerity, local authorities feeling the pinch attempt to deny provision by failing to assess needs, or by omitting mention of provision that would meet those needs in statements. That harsh conclusion is reflected in outcomes at tribunal, where local authorities lose over 80% of cases.
Many councils have legal representation in all hearings – whereas legal support for parents challenging decisions varies, and would seem to be one reason why many decide not to fight.
This is the sort of scenario that has observers suggesting a different, less attritional approach must be worth exploring.
Perhaps so. But here councils seem to be the chief barrier to change. The response of many to losing cases they defend has been to increase the ‘robustness’ of their already superior legal representation, rather than reflect on why their decisions prove wrong when scrutinised.
At times SEN disputes can feel like a legal cottage industry. But it is an industry councils could all but kill off through better decision-making and a closer commitment to the needs of children and young adults.