How to challenge decisions
Children and young people with SEN and disabilities seem to have more than their fair share of problems arising in relation to their education and training. Sometimes such problems can be resolved by discussion and informal forms of dispute resolution. However, sometimes problems do not go away and you may want some form of redress or means of challenging decisions. Sometimes there is more than one route for complaint, the information below should help you, alternatively call our helpline on 0845 1203730 or use our enquiry form
Complaints to the school
If you have a complaint about the way your child’s school is providing for the special needs of your child, you should first contact staff informally to try and sort the problem out. Very often thinks arise through misunderstandings and can be worked out easily and informally. In a primary school, you’re best to start with the class teacher or a form teacher in secondary school. You could also talk to the SENCO. Always make an appointment, you have a better opportunity to be heard than trying to catch a busy teacher during school time. If this is difficult put the request in writing.
Before asking for a formal meeting with the school it’s useful to think about what’s going wrong and what you want the school to do about it. Although you’re likely to be angry or frustrated, do not rush to the school and demand to be seen immediately. This rarely works. Show that you want to work in partnership with the school and develop a good relationship in the best interest of your child. Be polite and measured. You should think about:
- What the school is doing wrong that makes you unhappy
- What the school isn’t doing that you think they should do
- If you have several issues list them separately and write down particular incidents that have happened.
- You should write down how it affects your child, educationally, emotionally and socially.
- You should list what you want to happen, this might be better assessments, more class help, an apology, a review of the schools policies and procedures, etc.
You may feel you want to take a friend or supporter with you. You can ask for help from SNAP Cymru who deliver the parent partnership service in your area and either a member of staff or a volunteer could help you prepare for the meeting and attend with you.
If this does not work, you should ask to see a copy of the school’s complaints procedure. If you are intending to make a formal complaint, it’s important that you keep written records. These might be, of incidents that effect your child, records of phone calls or meetings and copies of letters.
If you have used the school’s complaints procedure and still not been able to resolve the problem, you may want to consider using a disagreement resolution procedure.
Disagreement resolution uses an independent third party to help sort out disputes between you and the school, or between you and local education authority. Local education authorities must tell you about this procedure when they issue a proposed or amended statement, or if they decide not to issue a statement. Disagreement resolution can be started by you, the school, or the local education authority.
Taking part in disagreement resolution does not affect your right to make a formal appeal against a local education authority’s decision. You can take part in disagreement resolution and appeal at the same time. However, if you want to appeal you must remember not to miss the two-month time limit – see under the heading Appeals. The outcome of the appeal will not be affected by what happens during disagreement resolution, unless you want it to. Equally, if you refuse to take part in disagreement resolution, this will not count against you if you make an appeal.
Complaints about the Local Education Authority
You may have a complaint about the way the local education authority has dealt with your child’s special educational needs. This might be, for example, about delays in carrying out an assessment of your child, issuing a statement or putting agreed services in place. For this type of complaint, you can use your local authority’s complaints procedure. Complaints about local authority services should be made to the most senior education officer, usually called the Chief Education Officer, Director of Children’s Services or Director of Education.
Parents have to give the local authority the opportunity to put things right before they take up a matter elsewhere, e.g. with the Local Government Ombudsman. How to complain should be explained in the website of the relevant LA; if the LA has not put its complaints policy on the website then ask for copy of the complaints procedure from their offices. This should set out the time limit for replying to a complaint. Always send a written complaint by recorded delivery or ask for a receipt if delivered it by hand.
If you are not satisfied with the outcome, you can complain to the Local Government Ombudsman (or Public Services Ombudsman for Wales). An Ombudsman is someone who has been appointed to look into complaints about an organisation. The Ombudsman is usually a lawyer and investigates from an independent standpoint. The Ombudsman will not be able to look into a complaint about something which you could take to the SEN appeal tribunal instead.
There are a number of Ombudsmen:
- the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman who investigates complaints about government departments and certain other public bodies
- the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales who investigates complaints about public services in Wales. This includes complaints about the health service in Wales
For more information about how to complain to Public Services Ombudsman for Wales,
SEN and DisabilityAppeals
If you have been through the school’s complaints procedure and/or a disagreement resolution and are not satisfied with the results, you may want to appeal. In Wales, you should appeal to The Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales. These are independent tribunals which hear parents’ appeals against certain decisions of the local education authority about a child’s special educational needs. The Tribunal’s decision is final.
It can take a long time, usually four to five months, for an appeal to be heard, and this may delay getting your child the help they need. However, you can continue to talk to the local education authority while you are waiting for the appeal, and you may find that you are able to sort out your differences and withdraw your appeal before it takes place.
To make an appeal, you need to fill in the form at the back of the How to appeal booklet, issued by the Tribunal, and return this no later than two months from the date that the letter from the local education authority arrives telling you of its decision. For a copy of the booklet for Wales, telephone 01597 829 800. You can also complete the appeal booklet on line.
Refusal to Assess
If your request for a Statutory Assessment of your child’s Special Educational needs is refused, the Local Authority will inform you of their decision in a letter. If you disagree with the decision you should firstly ask the Local Authority for a meeting to discuss your concerns. Often important information has been overlooked when the initial decision was made. You should also contact your Parent Partnership service SNAP Cymru for advice. You can also access formal disagreement resolution.
So long as you or the school requested a statutory assessment, if the LA refuses the request you can appeal against this decision.(This is an appeal under Section 329 or Section 329A of the Education Act1996.) Many parents successfully represent themselves at the Tribunal. Its website,http://sentw.gov.uk provides a great deal of useful information on the procedures and how to submit your case.
In the letter refusing assessment, your LA must provide you with the following information on your rights of appeal:
- That you have a right of appeal
- That you have a two-month deadline to appeal
- That parent partnership and disagreement resolution services are available
- That using the disagreement resolution service will not affect your right of appeal
The Tribunal may well waive the two-month deadline if all this information is not provided and you would be allowed to appeal late.
If you use or are referred to a Disagreement Resolution Service (DRS) before the two-months is up, then the time-limit for making an appeal may be extended. Your Local Authority must provide information about how to access its independent DRS. It is important that you ask SENTW about any extension to the time-limit before the two-months is up.
You have no right of appeal if the LA has carried out a statutory assessment in the past six months.
Refusal to Issue a Statement
You can also appeal to SENTW if the LA assesses your child but gives you a Note in Lieu instead of a statement. (See separate note in lieu leaflet) The LA must inform you about the appeal process and the time limits. (As above) If the tribunal agrees with you it can order the LA to make and maintain a statement for your child.
Appealing the content of a Final Statement
Following a statutory assessment, the LA will issue a proposed or draft statement. You will have 15 days to review the statement and accept or disagree with the contents. You should contact your school or parent partnership service if you are unsure or unhappy with the contents.
You can ask the LA for a meeting to discuss the draft and any changes you would like made. You can also ask the LA for an additional 15 days to consider the draft statement further. (You should do this in writing.)
If you are unhappy or disagree with the Final Statement you can appeal against the contents. You can appeal if the LA:
- refuses to change the school named in your child’s statement, if the statement is at least one year old and a previous request has not been made in the last 12 months (you can only ask for a school that is funded by a local authority). This is limited to the same type of school as the school named in the statement and it is not possible to ask us to change Parts 2 or 3 of the statement
- decides not to change the statement after reassessing your child
- has made a statement, or has changed a previous statement, and you disagree with one or more of the following:
o The part which describes your child’s special educational needs (Part 2).
o The part which sets out the special educational provision (help) that the Local Authority thinks your child should receive (Part 3).
o The school or type of school named in the statement (Part 4).
o The Local Authority not naming a school (Part 4).
The process of appealing, from when SENTW receive your appeal to when they hold the hearing and make a decision, usually takes four to five months. It may take longer depending on the type of case and how complicated it is.
The very first thing you should do is look at the date on the refusal letter from the LA and make a note of the date two months after this. This is your deadline by which you must get in your appeal. (If the two months ends in August you have until the first working day in September to get the form to the Tribunal.) If you have missed your deadline, there are sometimes exceptional circumstances where the tribunal may still accept your appeal request. (Contact SENTW 01597 829 800)
What to do
1. Get hold of the booklet ‘How to Appeal from the Tribunal’ see: www.sentw.gov
2. Make a note of the last date to send in your appeal
3. Complete the Appeal form including your Reasons for Appeal. Make sure you sign the form and your reasons if they are separate.
- You will need to tell the tribunal what decision you are appealing against
- If the appeal is about the school named in the statement – you must tell the tribunal the name and address of the school you would prefer to have named in the statement. It also asks you to confirm that you have told the Local Authority responsible for maintaining the school and the head teacher or proprietor of the school that you have asked for the school to be named in the statement.
- You must tell the tribunal your reasons for appealing. These are your ‘grounds of appeal’. You should explain why you disagree with the decision you are appealing against and what you are asking the tribunal to do. Make sure you sign the form and your reasons if they are separate.( Make copies of the LA’s decision letter, your Appeal form, and any evidence you are sending to the Tribunal)
- You can write to the LA and school if you need further information.
Depending on what your appeal is about, you may want to cover:
- why you think your child is not making progress
- why you think your child needs extra help at school
- what sort of extra help you think your child needs
- if your child has a statement, what changes you want to see,
- if you want your child to go to a different school, why you think that school will meet your child’s needs better.
4. Make copies of the LA’s decision letter, your Appeal form, and any evidence you are sending to the Tribunal.
5. Gather any reports written or arrange for any independent reports on your child.
6. Send the Appeal form, Reasons for Appeal and any other documents to the Tribunal office within the deadline and make notes of deadlines for the LA to respond, for your sending in further information and details of witnesses, and the date of the hearing sent you by the Tribunal.
7. Gather any remaining evidence and submit as soon as possible, at the latest at least four weeks before the date of the hearing.
8. Prepare for the hearing.
9. After the hearing – Generally you will receive the decision and reasons in writing within ten working days of the hearing.If the Tribunal decides in your favour, the LA has four weeks to begin the statutory assessment or to issue a new Statement.