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Informing the provision of disagreement resolution services for families of children with special educational needs and disabilities

CEDAR review

Image courtesy of Lucélia Ribeiro

The Centre for Educational Development, Appraisal and Research (CEDAR) at the University of Warwick has conducted a review of government reforms to the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) support system. The review was commissioned by the Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice and published in March 2017, alongside a government response.

Under the Children and Families Act 2014, local authorities (LAs) must offer support services to families to help resolve disagreements when they don’t agree with the provision a school or LA is making for their child’s special educational needs. The Act required a review of arrangements for disagreement resolution after two years to ensure the system is working effectively for children, young people and their families.

CEDAR’s review outlines a number of findings and highlights that disagreement resolution practices vary widely across LAs. Key findings include:

  • A person-centred approach to education, health and social care (EHC) needs assessment is important for the early resolution of disagreements.
  • The time taken to resolve disagreements matters: parents reported that when disagreements lasted for many months, there were negative effects on their child such as increased stress and anxiety and reduced educational achievement.
  • Mediation reduced the likelihood of disagreements escalating to the First-tier Tribunal SEND, which has higher cost implications.
  • Information, advice and support services (IASS) varied in the quality and quantity of support offered to families. Where they work well they can reduce disagreements, but there is often a degree of distrust because they are not independent of LAs.
  • Parents had some concerns with SEND complaints processes, including complaints not being taken seriously and having to wait too long for a response.
  • Disagreement resolution services, designed to help resolve issues that cannot be taken to Tribunal, are not widely understood or used.

The Government’s response to the review sets out a number of new steps it intends to take as a result of the findings, to ensure SEND reforms are as effective as possible. These include publishing good practice guidance, supporting continuous professional development for LA staff, producing accessible guidance for families on available routes for complaint and disagreement resolution, and supporting the mediation sector to introduce accredited training programmes for SEND mediation.

Read the full reports

CEDAR research report: Review of arrangements for disagreement resolution (SEND)

Government response: Special Educational Needs and Disabilities: Disagreement Resolution Arrangements in England