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Completed 2017

Review of Arrangements for Disagreement Resolution (SEND)

Mrs Mairi Ann Cullen, Professor Geoff Lindsay, Dr Gavan Conlon, Dr Stephen Cullen,
Dr Ioanna Bakopoulou, Dr Vasiliki Totsika


The system of support for children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) was recently the subject of major reforms, encapsulated in the Children and Families Act 2014. The changes enacted included a requirement for local authorities (LAs) to make disagreement resolution services available to parents and young people for SEN disagreements that cannot be appealed to the First-tier Tribunal SEND. The Act also introduced compulsory mediation information conversations prior to an appeal to the First-tier Tribunal SEND for disagreements between parents or young people and the LA about education, health and care (EHC) needs assessments or plans. The one exception was for disagreements about placement only. Mediation remained voluntary for parents/young people but, if requested to do so, local authorities were required to send a representative expected to have decision-making authority.


The purpose of this research, commissioned by the Department for Education, was to support Ministerial commitments to conduct a review of the disagreement resolution arrangements and to conduct a pilot to test the expansion of the powers of the First-Tier Tribunal (SEND) to make non-binding recommendations on health and social care aspects of EHC plans. The Tribunal’s powers are currently limited to the educational aspects of an EHC plan.

Combined methods

The research (April 2015 to March 2017) comprised three components:

Component 1: Three online surveys of all 152 local authorities (LAs) to provide data over six terms (two years).

Component 2: Study 1 (Pilot areas only): Interviews with parents or young people appealing to the Tribunal under the pilot regulations; with parental supporters in the pilot appeal process; Tribunal panel representatives with experience of the pilot; with representatives from clinical commissioning groups engaged with the pilot; and focus groups with representatives from pilot LAs involved in Tribunal cases.

Study 2 (Included other areas): Interviews with mediators from a sample of mediation services; interviews with parents or young people who used one or more disagreement resolution processes; representatives involved in formal complaints procedures across education, health and social care aspects of SEN; and focus groups with staff involved in early disagreement resolution, including special educational needs coordinators (SENCOs) and staff from Information Advice and Support Services and from Disagreement Resolution Services.

Component 3: Assessment of the cost savings arising from early disagreement resolution and of cost implications of the extended Tribunal powers in the pilot areas

Key findings

  • Early disagreement resolution was best for children and young people with SEND and for their parents. It had the added benefit of being the most cost-effective approach to disagreement resolution.
  • Mediation information conversations increased take-up of mediation. Mediation was associated with a significantly lower liklihood of going on to lodge an appeal with the First-tier Tribunal SEND. This, in turn, accounted for aggregate cost-savings of early disagreement resolution compared to the costs of appeal to the First-tier Tribunal SEND, as incurred by LAs, the Tribunal and parents.
  • The Recommendations pilot of extended powers for the First-tier Tribunal SEND was welcomed in principle. It resolved issues presented and led to some improvements in joint working around SEND across education, social care and health. It did not generate sufficient evidence to assess health and social care responsiveness to Tribunal recommendations. As a result, the Government intends to run a national trial of the same extended powers over a two year period.

The full report, plus the Government's policy responses across seven main areas, can be found here.

The report of the Review of disagreement resolution (SEND) has now been published alongside the Government Response:
Please follow link to report on website