The government is facing a huge “backlog” in special education tribunals after a sharp rise in appeals, which campaigners blame on the government’s “landmark” reforms.
Figures published on Friday by the Department for Education (DfE) reveal that the number of special educational needs and disability (SEND) appeals registered from April to June this year were a third higher compared with the same period a year ago.
Campaigners from information website Special Needs Jungle also found only 58 per cent of those cases were cleared within three months, the lowest rate since at least 2009.
Barney Angliss, co-director of Special Needs Jungle, said the shortfall in the tribunal’s performance was “unprecedented and leaves them with a record backlog”.
However a Ministry of Justice spokesperson denied there was a backlog and said cases are progressing “as expected”.
The DfE report also revealed only 59.2 per cent of education, health and care (EHC) plans were issued within the 20-week time limit in 2015, compared with 64.3 per cent in 2014.
The reforms are supposed to have cut time, but families are having to wait longer
EHC plans were brought in as part of the government’s “once in a generation” reforms in 2014, with local authorities responsible for delivering a single care plan for children with more complex needs.
Tania Tirraoro, founder of Special Needs Jungle, said families faced increasing “uncertainty and stress.
“The reforms are supposed to have cut time, but families are having to wait longer to get the new EHCs, before they can even think about if they want to appeal.
“Parents are having a worse time than they ever had under the old system.”
The DfE report says local authorities will “take time” to adjust to the new system. But it appears some have been overawed by the changes.
Cumbria county council said EHC assessment requests from schools have risen 80 per cent in the past two years.
The council said this caused an £8 million overspend. It now wants schools to cut their budgets to make up the shortfall.
A spokesperson for the DfE said about 70,000 more children received EHC plans in 2015 – up from just 4,000 the previous year.
“Almost two thirds of those are still being processed within the 20-week time frame, but we want to make sure that all children have quality plans in place as quickly as possible and we are continuing to support councils to do this.”
A new mediation process resulted in the resolution of three quarters of appeals in 2015 without the need for a tribunal.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “There is no backlog of cases waiting to be heard. All cases are progressing through the appeals system as expected. In addition we are cutting the time taken to reach a decision from 22 weeks to 12.”
Updated, 11.50am Monday 4th, October: The MoJ sent a further statement that said the backlog figures recorded in the receipts and disposals analysis by SNJ do not take into account the fact that cases are listed on a 12 week timetable.
They said there will always be cases still progressing through the system, adding that such cases are not a ‘backlog’, which implies that they have accumulated, but are part of a large caseload of live cases that are progressing through the appeal process as expected.