Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST) – Tribunals to provide for Speech & language therapy input
Many parents find themselves having to take their Local Education Authority to a Tribunal in cases where they have not been able to agree on the needs and requirements of Speech & language input for the child.
Once a child has been identified as having a difficulty with speech & language skills (including social skills and play) the Health Visitor, Nursery School or School will refer the child for a thorough assessment (usually by a Speech & language Therapist but sometimes a Child Psychologist will also be alerted).
Following the assessment, an IEP (Individual Education Plan) will be put in place in cases where the input the child needs input to improve their skills (the assessment results determine the level and type of difficulties). School staff will then endeavour to carry out the targets on the IEP usually with some level of support from a Speech & Language therapist (SLT); this may include some one to one sessions, a written programme or a one off visit. But this is not guaranteed, and the IEP is not legally binding on the school or the LEA. No additional funding is available to the school
If the child does not make steady progress and the school feel that more specific help from outside agencies is required they will then try to get the child formally assessed by outside agencies in order to obtain a Statement of Special Educational Needs. Depending on the difficulties that the child has, the following agencies may be involved – Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy, Psychology and SLT. A Paediatrician is also usually involved in assessing any medical requirements. It is always better if the parent instigates the Statutory Assessment procedure, because the rules and timescales do not always apply if the request comes from the school.
Once all the information has been collated the Statement is drawn up to detail the type of difficulty the child is experiencing with the needs outlined and how the needs can be met within the school environment. The parents are sent a draft version of this Statement and are asked to either accept it or make amendments as they think fit. If the needs state that Speech & language therapy is required, then the Statement should also determine how the needs will be met (by a SLT) within the Statement itself (in ‘Provision’ not in part 6 as some LEA’s try to do). The reason that SLT input needs to be in the section for ‘Provision’ and not part 6 is that the LEA then has a legal obligation to provide the SLT. One of the main reasons that parents have to take the LEA to Tribunal is that in cases where the local NHS SLT department have not had the resources to provide 1:1 therapy, the child has been left without any input at all. It is always advisable to insist the level of Speech and Language Therapy provision is quantified and detailed, giving timings and frequency, and the qualifications of the personnel involved.
Sometimes the LEA will issue a “Notice in lieu” rather than a full Statement. This is rarely satisfactory because the advice on this is not legally binding on the LEA or the school.
The parents then have to prove that their child needs the 1:1 input (or whatever input has been specified) to the Tribunal panel often against an LEA that tries to prove that the child is in a setting where specific SLT is not required because the provision meets their requirements some other way.
Full details of the Statementing procedure can be found in the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice, available from the Department for Education and Skills.
This description has been put together from my own experiences with the Statementing procedure and Tribunals and should not be quoted anywhere as it is personal thoughts and ideas rather than any official stance. It’s been written it to give parents some idea of what is involved in both processes should they be thinking about proceeding along either route.
There are many rules and timescales which apply throughout the Statementing Porcess and which govern when a Parent can appeal to SENDIST against the decision by the LEA. Advice on thiese can be obtained from IPSEA and other organisations specialising in Education (NAS, etc)
In the UK there is a group of Speech and Language Therapist who undertake Tribunal and Medico legal work, this group is called the “Medico legal” Special Interest Group. The ASLTIP website has a database of all Independent SLT’s where you can locate your nearest SLT who undertakes this type of work.
Finally I would just like to point out that the SENDIST Tribunal panels are made up of groups of people from varying backgrounds (teachers, SLT’s legal representatives) and are impartial. They read evidence from both the LEA and the parents and try to make a decision based on the needs of the child and the most effective way of meeting the needs.