THE council has spent more than £100,000 on education tribunals – but has seen just 2.6 per cent of cases ruled in its favour.

BCP Council spent £109,892.17 since March 2023 on SEND tribunals (SENDIST), with 75 cases concluded since that date.

Just two of those tribunals were ruled in favour of the council.

SENDIST is a legal tribunal where families can appeal decisions made by councils that affect their children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND).

This is often to do with education, health and care plans (EHCPs).

To date, the council has received 128 SENDIST appeals since March 2023, compared with 136 in the year 2021/22.

Of the remaining 126 appeals lodged since March 2023, 53 are yet to be heard and 11 have been dismissed.

Eleven appeals have been heard, with nine finding in favour of the parents and two in favour of the council.

BCP Council conceded 53 appeals prior to the tribunal hearing date.

In 2021/2022, BCP Council spent £123,814.70 on 136 appeals.

It does not have data on the outcomes of these cases as it implemented a system to record these from 2022 to ‘help us to analyse and improve our performance.’

A spokesperson for the council said that costs are high as the authority does not have an in-house legal team, and so it is outsourced.

The authority highlighted that it has not appealed any outcomes of these tribunals.

In response to the low percentage of cases being ruled in the favour of the council, the spokesperson said that due to the tight deadlines that the authority has to reach a decision on EHCPs, sometimes decisions have to be made ‘without all the information that could be available to hand.’

The council said it gets more information on each case from families, schools and professionals during the tribunals process that can support the appeal.

The evidence is re-evaluated, and then decisions can be overturned.

Prior to the tribunals, on receipt of this extra information, the council decides whether to go to tribunal or concede.

The statutory time limit to decide if an assessment is needed is six weeks, and it is 20 weeks to then issue an EHCP.

(Image: Cllr Richard Burton)

In May, portfolio holder for children and young people, Cllr Richard Burton, told cabinet that 70 families had been waiting for more than 30 weeks for a plan.

In September 2023, the council was ranked as the fifth lowest performing in the country in issuing the plans, with no plans issued within the timeframe since November 2022 to September.

Since, Cllr Burton said timeliness for issuing plans was at more than 90 per cent.

Cathi Hadley, BCP Council’s corporate director, children’s services, said: “Improving the experience for all those families who apply for this important support remains an absolute priority for the council.

“We always start from the position of working with families, schools and partners to find solutions before a tribunal hearing takes place.

“Our SEND appeals team’s approach is to listen to parents, not work against them and we always aim to resolve our appeals before they are heard at a Tribunal.

“We acknowledge that parents do not want to appeal to the Tribunal by choice and recognise that SEND children and young people are the most vulnerable and we must help support them to thrive in their education.

“Although slight, the fall in the number of SEND tribunals involving BCP Council reflects the improvements we are making in our SEND services.

“We know there is still a huge amount of work yet to done, but this data shows that we are committed to achieving the best for all the children and young people in BCP who need extra support to fulfil their full potential.”