The county council is estimated to have spent more than £400,000 fighting losing battles against parents trying to secure special educational support for their children.
So far this year, 119 parents have lodged appeals against Derbyshire County Council because they do not believe the level of support allocated to their children is correct.
The majority of these appeals relate to what are called Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) – legally-binding plans for each child which lay out what the school must do to help them.
Support children could receive include teaching assistants to in class, coloured paper for pupils with dyslexia or key technology for more specific learning needs – such as for those with sensory conditions.
Of the 119 appeals, the county council is defending 98 cases at SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) tribunals, a Freedom of Information Request has revealed.
In total, 17 appeals have been withdrawn after talks with the parents and four were not fought by the authority.
Out of the 98 tribunals which went ahead, 30 are ongoing, have not been held yet or are yet to make a decision.
Of the 68 which have concluded, the authority has won just one.
Parents may also take the council to a SEND tribunal over school placements and disability discrimination. The authority said it could not specifically state the amount of time and money that has gone into the 98 tribunals, stating that these procedures were carried out by staff alongside their other duties. It said it was “impossible” to give the cost to the county’s taxpayers.
However, figures provided by the Department for Education (DfE) estimate the cost to the council of the 98 tribunal hearings as £401,800.
And that’s not the total cost to the taxpayer. When the amount of cost to parents and central government are added in, the figure reaches an estimated £1.25 million.
A spokesperson for Derbyshire County Council said: “We work hard with parents to identify the most appropriate education to meet their children’s needs. However, securing this can be complex for a variety of reasons and sometimes there’s a difference of views. This can lead to tribunals which does take time and resources. It is not possible to separate the costs out for tribunals from the day-to-day case work as this work is all undertaken by the same officers. These officers work hard with families to identify and agree on the most appropriate education to meet their children’s needs. When there is disagreement they continue to work through this with the aim to reach agreement. This also includes when it moves into the tribunal process and we would always aim to resolve issues wherever possible before reaching the tribunal itself. The 17 tribunals that were withdrawn were due to us working with families and due to being able to reach agreement.”
The Department for Education has published national estimates for the costs of a SEND tribunal. The figures for Derbyshire specifically have not been published and may vary. But the DfE states that the average cost to the local authority of each tribunal is approximately £4,100. This would put the the cost to the county council of the 98 appeals it has or is defending at £401,800.
A DfE spokesperson said: “It is right that local authorities respond appropriately to any special needs tribunal appeal – and in doing so they will inevitably incur some costs. The vast majority of cases for education, health and care needs assessments are concluded without the need to resort to tribunal hearings. We are investing £20 million more until March 2020 to improve the quality of information, advice and support available to families – including, for example, helping families prepare for tribunals.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the county council, said: “The figures you have calculated are based on national average estimates provided by the Department for Education. The cost of each tribunal can vary enormously from case to case depending on the circumstances so it is impossible to give costs for any case in Derbyshire.”
The estimated figures were not estimated by Derbyshire Live as the county council comment suggests but by the Department for Education.