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Written Statement - Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales

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Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills

Child’s Right to Make Special Educational Needs Appeals and Claims of Disability Discrimination to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales (SENTW)

The Education (Wales) Measure 2009 (Measure) is a pioneering piece of legislation that makes provision for children in Wales to have a right to appeal in respect of special educational needs  (SEN) and the right to make a claim in respect of disability discrimination in schools, to the SENTW themselves.

The Measure enables the Welsh Ministers to pilot the new rights for a period of up to 40 months. I am therefore pleased to announce that significant pilot schemes will begin this month.

The Education (Wales) Measure 2009 (Pilot) Regulations 2012 were laid before the National Assembly for Wales on 13 February 2012 in accordance with the negative procedure. The Regulations came into force on 6 March 2012 and allow the new rights and duties under the Measure to be piloted in the local authority areas of Carmarthenshire and Wrexham until 30 June 2015. The Regulations also make provision for the Welsh Ministers to request information from the Tribunal, the pilot local authorities or a responsible body for a school within the pilot authority areas. Once the pilot Regulations cease to have effect, the rights and duties will automatically apply to the whole of Wales.

I am also pleased to announce that new procedural regulations have been made for the SENTW. The Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales Regulations 2012, laid on 13 February, came into force on 6 March 2012.   These Regulations consolidate and revise existing regulations that apply to the SENTW. The Regulations also enable the SENTW to deal with SEN appeals and disability discrimination claims made by children in the pilot areas.


SENTW Annual Report 2010/11

I should also like to draw to your attention the main findings of the SENTW Annual Report, which I discussed with the SENTW President, Rhiannon Ellis Walker, earlier this year:

  • There has been a continued upward trend in the number of SEN appeals, with 112 registered over the period of the report in comparison to 106 during 2009/10.
  • There has been a notable reduction in appeals about refusal to statement. This type of appeal made up 9% of all appeals registered in comparison to 22% during 2009/10.  
  • 2010/11 saw a small increase in appeals about refusal to assess. This type of appeal made up 37% of all appeals registered in comparison to 34% in 2009/10.
  • An area of concern was the high number of appeals conceded by local authorities. This was 33% of all appeals dealt with over the course of the report. Appeals about refusal to assess in particular had a high concession rate with 38 of the 42 appeals received were conceded.
  • Appeals about the content of SEN statements have also increased. This type of appeal made up 52% of all appeals registered in comparison to 43% in 2009/10.
  • With regard to the outcomes of these appeals, 18% of appeals went to a hearing and were decided, of which 89% were upheld in full or in part.  33% of appeals were withdrawn and 33% of appeals were conceded. 16% of appeals have been carried over into the current reporting year.

A link to the full SENTW Annual Report 2010-2011 can be found here (external link).

Whilst the actual numbers of appeals registered against individual local authorities remains relatively low, it is concerning to see an upward trend against some local authorities that have previously been successful at reducing numbers.

What is of particular concern is the high concession rate for decisions not to assess a child who may have SEN.  This represents unacceptable stress for the families involved. I have therefore written to the Welsh Local Government Association to request that they remind local authorities that they must have regard to the SEN Code of Practice for Wales when dealing with children with SEN, so that disputes may be avoided, or to prevent disputes escalating to the SENTW before being conceded.

The AJTC ‘Right First Time’ report

Following on from this theme, I would to take this opportunity to commend the report "Right Girst Time", which was recently published by the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council (external link).  It offers practical steps to help public bodies adopt a right first time culture within their organisations. 

The ‘Right First Time’ report correctly highlights that poor service and waste of public money are unacceptable. Its also suggests that this poor service can lead to additional concerns, stress and financial burden to parents.

Whilst all parties have a role to play in any disagreement around services provided to the public, local authorities should do all they can to ensure that procedures in place allow them to get it right first time.

Conclusion

We owe it to children with special educational needs and their families to make sure that they can access appropriate services with the minimum of stress and bureaucracy.  The legislative proposals on which I shall be consulting later this year aim to achieve that.  In the meantime I look to local authorities to operate the existing system in as supportive and person-centred way as possible.