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Resolving disagreements about Special Educational Needs or Disability (SEND) provision

Sometimes problems can arise from a misunderstanding which can easily be clarified by talking to the right person.

Resolve disagreements with education settings or other services

Many disagreements can be sorted out by talking to the teacher, Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo), headteacher or Special EducationalNeeds (SEN) Govenor at your child's early year’s provider, school, or young persons college or a relevant officer or manager at the local authority, or for health services the nurse, GP, therapist, consultant etc. or Clinical Commissioning Group. 

Before arranging a meeting

Before arranging a meeting directly with the person or organisation it may be useful for you to make some notes about:

  • The main issue/s

What went wrong?

    • anything the school, the local authority or health did that you are unhappy about
    • anything the school, the local authority or health should have done but didn’t

You may have several issues. Try to list them separately. Write down details of any particular incidents.

  • Your child / young person.

How the problem has affected your child /young person:

    • Educationally?
    • Physically?
    • Socially?
    • Emotionally?
  • Previous meetings

Has there already been contact between you and the school, the local authority or health on this issue.

    • Was there any agreement?
  • What you want to happen now

This might be:

    • an action by the school, the local authority or health
    • an apology
    • an assurance that it won’t happen again
    • a review of policies

If you’re worried about child’s additional support for learning in their early years setting, school or college, talk to your child’s teacher, Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) or the head teacher.

If you’re concerned about the help that your child has at school and you think the setting is doing all it can, you can ask us for an Education, Health and Care (EHC) needs assessment.

You may also wish to contact SENDIASS Torbay for help at this stage. Supportive Parents are impartial professionals who can explain the processes and support you through it by:

  • listening to your concerns
  • helping you deal with issues
  • identifying other people who can support you
  • helping you decide what to do next
  • explaining the law and your rights

Handling meetings

Many parents find it daunting even going to an informal meeting. Here are some ideas that may help. Remember that at this point the priority is to share your concerns and explore possible ways forward.

  • Be prepared – have a written list of your points. It may help to give a copy at the beginning of the meeting.
  • Be tactful – think carefully about how you put your points across.
  • Listen carefully to what the school, the local authority or health says and try to see both sides of the situation.
  • Be open minded but don’t be fobbed off if you feel your complaint isn’t being taken seriously.
  • Take someone with you to support you and to take notes.
  • Tick off the points on your list as you go along to make sure you don’t miss anything.
  • Note any points and any agreements.
  • At the end get a summary of what has been agreed even if it is only that the school, the local authority or health will look into the situation.
  • Set some deadlines and arrange a further meeting to check progress.
  • Thank the member of staff for taking the time to meet you.

If you can’t reach agreement, you may be able to make a formal complaint. 

Gathering information

It is important to keep a written record of all contacts with the school, the local authority or health, particularly if you may be moving on to a formal complaint. These might be:

  • incidents affecting your child
  • phone calls or meetings
  • copies of letters.

If your complaint relates to something that had a significant effect on your child, see if there is anyone who can write a statement about this. That might be another professional such as a teacher, doctor, health visitor or youth leader or perhaps a family friend who knows the child well.

You may also wish to ask for disclosure of your child’s educational records under the Education (Pupil Information) (England) Regulations 2000 and the Data Protection Act 1998. These records should be made available within 15 school days. Please note although you may be able to view these records free of charge, the school can charge a fee (maximum of £50) for photocopying in order to provide you with a copy.

Making a formal complaint about a school or college

If you can’t reach agreement, you may wish to proceede to make a formal complaint following the iduvidual educational setting complaints policy and proceedures. All schools have thier own complaints policy and proceedures that must me available to parents. It’s often on the school’s website and should tell you the kind of complaints the school deals with.

If you are not satisfied with the outcome of your formal complaint, you may then be able to make a complaint to:

Making a formal complaint about the Local Authority about children's services (education and/or social care)

Local authorities have procedures to deal with complaints from children and young people, or from people complaining on their behalf, such as parents and guardians. You may find information on making a complaint about services you have received helpful.

Complaints about children's services normally need to be made within 12 months, but the local authority can consider complaints made later than this. If it decides not to deal with the complaint, it should tell you why.

The complaints process should take into account the concerns of the child or young person involved, and should be appropriate for their age and level of understanding.

If the child or young person wants to make a complaint themselves, the local authority should provide information about advocacy services and help them access these.

As with adult complaints, you should address your complaint to the manager of the service you are complaining about at first. Local authorities aim to have your complaint resolved at the local level within 10 working days, although this can be extended.

You may also find Cerebra's Problem-Solving Toolkit for Families useful.

If you're not happy with the local authority's decision regarding your complaint, you can get help from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

The Local Government Ombudsman focuses on complaints about special educational needs/disability framework processes (eg where timescales have not been followed or stated provision has not been provided). The law generally prevents this service from investigating complaints which can be addressed by appeal to the statutory first-tier (special educational needs and disability) tribunal.

Making a formal complaint about NHS services

If you want to complain about an NHS service such as a hospital, GP or dentist, ask the service for a copy of their complaints procedure, which will explain what you need to do. If you speak to them, they may be able to resolve your concerns without you having to go through the complaints process. If your complaint is about a hospital, you might want to start by contacting its Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

However, you may choose to make a complaint at any time. You can do this in writing, by email, or by speaking to them. This is called the local resolution stage, and it aims to resolve complaints quickly - most cases are resolved at this stage. If you would like to make a complaint, follow the NHS complaints process.

You may make a complaint to either the organisation that provided your healthcare or the organisation that commissioned that NHS service. The commissioning body will be the local clinical commissioning group (CCG) for hospital care, NHS England for GP, dental, pharmacy and optical services, or your local authority for complaints about public health services.

The time limit for a complaint is normally 12 months from the date the event happened, or from the date you first became aware of it.

Complaints about the NHS | The Advocacy People provide Independent Health Complaints Advocacy (IHCA) and some Factsheets to help you if you would like to make the complaint yourself or have started the process already.

Find tips on how to complain about NHS services.

You may also find Cerebra's Problem-Solving Toolkit for Families useful.

If you are not satified with the outcom of your formal complaint you may be able to complain to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

Disagreement resolution

Disagreement resolution is a voluntary process that can only take place if all parties agree. 

It is availiable to parents of all children and young people with SEND, not just those being assessed or who have an EHC Plan. 

It helps resolve disagreements about:

  • how early years providers, schools and further education institutions are carrying out their duties for children and young people with SEND
  • how social care services are carrying out their duties for children and young people with SEND
  • health care services are carrying out their duties for children and young people with SEND
  • the special educational provision made for a child or young person by early years providers, schools or further education institutions
  • the social care provision made for a child or young person by early years providers, schools or further education institutions
  • the health care provision made for a child or young person by early years providers, schools or further education institutions
  • us or the local healthcare authority (BNSSG Clinical Commissioning Group) deciding not to undertake an EHC needs assessment
  • us or the local healthcare authority deciding not to issue an EHC plan
  • the special educational, health or social care support we or the CCG are providing in an EHC plan

In Torbay, we use Global Mediation to provide disagreement resolution services.

You may also find the following documents useful:


Mediation is similar to, but slightly different from, disagreement resolution. It is where an independent mediator, separate from the council, tries to help parties to reach an agreement about a child or a young person who’s being assessed or has an EHC plan. 

Although mediation is voluntary, in most cases, consideration of mediation is a requirement before submitting appeals to the SEND Tribunal. This means that you do not have to take part in mediation, but, must contact the mediation service in order to get a certificate to confirm that you have considered it and chosen not to use the service. 

You, or your child if they’re over 16, can use mediation if you plan to appeal to the First Tier Tribunal about a decision we’ve made about: 

  • not carrying out an EHC needs assessment or reassessment
  • not drawing up an EHC plan after we’ve done an EHC needs assessment 
  • the content of an EHC plan
  • not amending an EHC plan after an EHC plan annual review 
  • not agreeing to a full reassessment of needs after an EHC plan annual review
  • no longer maintaining (ceasing) an EHC plan

A mediator can’t:

  • take sides
  • tell anybody what to do
  • try to influence any agreement

The mediation provider for Torbay is Global Mediation

You may also find Mediation - Factsheet useful.

Appeal to the SEND tribunal

You can make appeal to the SEND tribunal about particular decisions we make.

For more information about:

  • who can appeal 
  • when you can appeal
  • what decisions you can be appeal
  • the appeals process

Please see: