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S.E.N. Complaints, Appeals and Claims

There are new ways of dealing with disputes with schools and Local Education Authorities (LEAs.) Some of these changes came into force in 2002 with the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act.

Complaints about special education

You may have a complaint about the way your child's school is meeting their special educational needs. In the first instance it would be best to discuss this with your child's teacher. You might then wish to discuss your concerns with the school's Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) or the Headteacher. If you do not feel that your concerns are being dealt with you might consider contacting the Special Needs Governor or writing to the Chair of Governors. All schools are required by law to have a complaints procedure and may want to use this and have your complaint heard formally by the school Governors.

If your complaint is with the LEA and the way that they are arranging support to the school for your child's special educational needs, you should make your concerns known to the Special Education Needs Department of the LEA. If this does not work you may want to use the LEA complaints procedure.

Mediation or disagreement resolution services

All Local Education Authorities now have to provide a disagreement resolution (mediation) service to help you and the school or education authority reach an acceptable agreement. This service is independent of the Education Department and you can find out about this through the Education Department or through your child's school.

Using the mediation service does not affect your right to make a complaint, or an appeal or a claim of disability discrimination.

Appeals about admissions or exclusions

Schools are now not allowed to discriminate against disabled pupils in any aspect of school life including admissions and exclusions. LEA appeal panels consider claims of discrimination about admissions and permanent exclusion from LEA maintained schools. School Governing Bodies deal with temporary (fixed term) exclusions.

If the school is an independent or non-maintained (not for profit) school then appeals about discrimination in admissions or permanent exclusions are heard by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal.

See below

Appeals about special educational needs

If you have not been able to sort your disagreement with the LEA about your child's special educational needs you may be able to appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST).

You can appeal to SENDIST if:-

the LEA refuses to carry out a formal assessment of your child
the LEA refuses to issue a Statement of your child's special educational needs
you disagree with the description of your child's needs in the Statement or the help that the Statement says they will have
you disagree with the school named in the Statement
the LEA fails to name a school in the Statement
the LEA refuses to change the name of the school named in the Statement
the LEA refuses to re-assess your child
the LEA decides to cancel your child's Statement
the LEA decides not to change the Statement after re-assessing your child

There is a two month time limit for making an appeal to SENDIST which starts when your LEA gives you its final written decision. Even if you decide to appeal to SENDIST you should continue to try to sort out your disagreement with the LEA. You can withdraw your appeal at any time.

If you decide to make an appeal to SENDIST most people would seek advice at this stage from a specialist voluntary organisation, for example ACE (Helpline on 0808-8005793) or IPSEA (Helpline on 0800-0184016.) There is also a very helpful booklet 'Special Educational Needs: How to Appeal' available free from SENDIST on 01325-392555 or This takes you through the stages of an appeal and explains what happens at the hearing. A video is also available free from 01325-392555 to help prepare you for a Tribunal hearing.

For a Time Scale and More Details about What Happens at Hearings for SENDIST - CLICK HERE

Claims about disability discrimination

Parents can make a claim of unlawful discrimination by a school against their child through the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST. This Tribunal can order any remedy except financial compensation. Parents must make a claim to the Tribunal within 6 months of the alleged discrimination. You can withdraw you claim at any time.

This Tribunal also hears claims of discrimination against disabled pupils in admissions and permanent exclusions for independent or non-maintained schools. For LEA maintained schools claims about admissions or permanent exclusions are heard by the LEA appeals panels. There is a very helpful booklet 'Disability Discrimination in Schools: How to Make a Claim' available free on 020-7925-5750

I was looking on the SENDIST site and also on there you can check out the appeals tribunal decissions to a number of cases brought against various LEAs. These may be worth checking out as there are a number which deal with ADHD and EBD where the tribunal has made the order for the LEA to carry out, amend or re-assess a number of children for a Statement of Special Educational Need. These are therefore helpful when dealing with the LEA as they can be used to back up your case.


The Disability Rights Commission runs an independent conciliation service to promote settlement of claims without going to the Tribunal. Both you and the Governing Body (or proprietors of an independent school) have to agree that the conciliation service is to be used. Using this service is voluntary and what you say in conciliation meetings cannot be used at the Tribunal unless you agree.

You can contact the Disability Rights Commission on 08457-622-633 or through their website

Agreeing to use either mediation or conciliation does not affect your right to take your claim of discrimination to the Tribunal. If you use the conciliation service this means that you have 8 months from the date of the decision to take your claim the Tribunal.


You can appeal to the High Court against the decision of SENDIST but only on points of law and not on the decision itself. The school or LEA can also appeal against the SENDIST decision to the High Court. 2004

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