Education Lawyers Welcome Call to Improve SEND System

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Sarah Woosey Profile Picture
Sarah Woosey

Interim Head of Education Law

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A stark report commissioned by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman released in 2019 highlighted that families with children with SEND are facing lengthy delays and are being forced to fight for what their child is entitled to.

Children with SEND may be assessed for an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan, which is used to ensure that a youngster's needs are met in each of these areas as they grow up.

Council chiefs said that the findings of the report supports their concerns that Local Authorities are at risk of not being able to meet their legal duties to SEND children; a concern echoed by leading Education Lawyers.

Sarah Woosey, a Partner and Education Solicitor at Simpson Millar said, “We are not surprised with the Ombudsman’s experience around SEND. We are regularly instructed by families who have been denied access to services that they are legally entitled to in both education and social care.

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The ongoing SEND crisis

When it comes to supporting children with special needs, many parents and children are suffering from lengthy delays for getting an Education, Health and Care Plan. Thousands of children with SEND are missing out on the level of education that they need and are entitled to because of the delays and shortages of provision and resource within the system.

Councils across the UK have accused the Government of losing a handle on the crisis and have demanded more funding for SEND children.

Even if a child has an EHCP in place, it’s often lacking some of the support that they so desperately need. For example, a child may have a EHCP for their social communication  skills, but it doesn’t recognise their speech and the speech therapy that they may need.

Ongoing SEND Tribunal Appeals

Sarah Woosey, said: “We are busier than we have ever been with such work and see a lot of cases being fully contested which, in previous years, we would have been able to settle quickly and sensibly with Local Authorities.

“The funding going into Local Authorities and into education is simply not enough to ensure that these families have the services they are entitled to and that is extremely worrying.”

A Freedom Of Information Request conducted by Simpson Millar revealed that in 2019, 1644 children with EHCPs in place in England did not receive notification of their secondary school deadline by the legal deadline, leaving many in limbo.

Sarah added, “We have some children who were due to start secondary school in September but the delays issuing decisions means appeals are still ongoing in the SEND Tribunal currently. The Tribunal is prioritising these appeals, but they too are seeing unprecedented numbers of appeals.

“Other issues we see include some families who have waited almost 10 months for a decision following annual review of their child’s EHC.

“This can be resolved relatively quickly by Judicial Review proceedings but parents don’t immediately contact Solicitors and so there are no updates or amendments to provision over the course of a year, so they continue to either go without provision or with inappropriate provision for their needs year after year potentially.

“In some cases, the children we represent are actually forced out of mainstream education, not because mainstream education was inherently unsuitable, but because of delays in receiving an EHCP, which means that the school does not have the ability to access the necessary resource to meet their needs.  

“In cases such as this, they face long periods of absenteeism from schools whilst an appeal is processed, which inevitably has a detrimental impact on both their educational needs and their mental health.

“We hope that this report will shine more light on the issue, so Local Authorities can take responsibility for letting these children down and take action to improve the system going forward.”

Appeals relating to your child’s EHCP

If you wish to appeal an EHCP decision relating to your child’s EHCP, you can appeal directly to the First Tier Tribunal for Special Educational Needs and Disability.

There are various types of appeals. For instance, if you're denied an Education, Health and Care needs assessment, you can appeal that decision. There are also situations where a local authority refuses to use a child's EHCP following an assessment. This can also be appealed to the Tribunal. . Appeals can also be made if an EHCP is in place but is not adequate and/or names an unsuitable school placement or indeed does not name a placement at all.

SEND Code of Practice

The SEND Code of Practice is a valuable document that helps the educational providers, parents, and children with SEND. It outlines exactly what support a SEND child is entitled to and who is responsible for putting the support in place.

The code covers people who are aged between 0 to 25, to make sure:

  • Parents and children participate in decision making
  • There is a focus on improving outcomes for children
  • Education, Health and Care Plans are created when needed

This guidance must be used by anyone or any organisation that works with children and young people. It’s statutory guidance for organisations including:

  • Local authorities
  • Governing bodies of schools
  • Early years providers
  • NHS Foundation Trusts

How an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) Works

When a Local Authority issue an EHCP for a child, it is a legally enforceable document. An EHCP should allow all professionals who are working with the child to know the key elements of support that are required.

The key purpose of having an EHCP is to:

  • Make provisions to meet the needs of the child or young person
  • Specify appropriate outcomes within education, health, and social care
  • Establish the views and interests of the parent and child
  • Prepare children for adulthood
  • Provide a description of the child’s needs

How schools can meet the needs of SEND children

The SEND Code of Practice states that every school must have the appropriate systems in place to help identify and support children. This includes assessing, monitoring, and supporting any SEND that they may have.

It’s expected that every school and early years provider will take the necessary steps to make sure that a child with SEND is given the support that they need to continue education. This means that they need to do everything within their power to meet the children’s needs.

It’s also the school’s responsibility to make sure that all children with SEND can engage in all school activities alongside their peers who don’t have SEND. The staff must take all the necessary steps to make sure that every pupil can take part, with no one being left out due to disabilities or special needs where reasonable steps can be taken to avoid this.

How we can help you

If you are the parent of a child with SEND and you’re not happy with the way that your child is being treated, we can help. We are experienced in working with families who are struggling to get their child assessed or getting an EHCP completed.

Don’t hesitate to contact one of our Education Lawyers today, to discuss how we can help your case.


Sky News. (n.d.). There’s a crisis in supporting children with special needs - this is George’s story. [online] Available at:

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities: Government Response to the Committee’s First Report of Session 2019 First Special Report of Session 2019-21 by authority of the House of Commons. (2020). Available at:

Winson, L. (2023). Administrative Justice Council makes recommendations on improving local authority SEND decisions. [online] Local Government Lawyer.

Department for Education (2015). Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of practice: 0 to 25 Years Statutory Guidance for Organisations Which Work with and Support Children and Young People Who Have Special Educational Needs or Disabilities. [online] Available at:

Sarah Woosey Profile Picture

Sarah Woosey

Interim Head of Education Law

Areas of Expertise:
Education Law

Sarah re-joined Simpson Millar in 2018 having previously trained at the firm before spending a number of years working for a different national firm. She has a number of years’ experience in a range of Education Law and Social Care issues and has focused particularly on getting suitable education and/or services for children and young adults with a wide range of Special Educational Needs and/or disabilities.

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