Resolving disputes and mediation

Local Offer - resolving disputes

It is impossible to avoid situations where for whatever reason someone is not happy with something that has happened. In the majority of cases it is possible to sort it out through a phone call, email or meeting. This is called an informal process. Just because it is informal does not mean whatever is agreed cannot be recorded or does not have to be done.

In some cases however the law recognises that there is a need to make a complaint about something and all organisations have policies in place to explain how this should happen.

If your child has special educational needs the SEND Information, Advice and Support Service (SENDIASS), formerly the Parent Partnership, can help you with raising things both formally and informally.

If you are unhappy with something it is advisable to begin by speaking to someone about it, in person or by phone or email. In school or another educational setting this could be a teacher, the Head of Year or the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo). If it is about something to do with the local authority or health service you will have the name of the person you normally see or speak to and you can discuss it with them or ask to speak to their manager. In most situations this should resolve the situation.

It is possible to deal with a concern more formally without making a complaint. You can do this by writing or emailing your concerns to the service manager explaining you are not making a formal complaint but raising something with them that you would like them to investigate and get back to you about. By putting it in writing there is a record but it does not trigger the formal complaints process.

Raising a concern informally does not mean it should not be taken less seriously and going through the informal steps does not stop you going through the complaints process if you are still unhappy with the result.

Local authority - if you’re not happy with a service you’ve received from the local authority, there is a formal complaints process. View our complaints processes.

Health services - information on how to comment or complain about NHS services is available on NHS Choices - You may also wish to contact Healthwatch Cambridgeshire or Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) for advice.

Early years providers - if you are not happy with the support your child is getting at their nursery, pre-school or childminder, talk to your child’s key person, SENCo or manager in the first instance. For all registered providers, formal complaints are made to Ofsted.

Schools and colleges - if you are unhappy with something at your child’s school, talk to their class teacher, head of year, tutor or SENCO first, to try and sort the problem out as early as possible. If you are not satisfied with the school’s response you can use their complaints procedure. Every school, further education and sixth form college must have a complaints policy. Check the school’s/ college's website or ask for a copy. Further details can be found on Gov UK

Dispute resolution covers areas of disagreement not covered by mediation. Use of dispute resolution services is voluntary and must be agreed by all parties. Before involvement with the formal dispute resolution service you have the option to use the impartial Special Educational Needs and Disability Information, Advice and Support Service (SENDIASS) that all local authorities must provide. SENDIASS staff are trained in dispute resolution and SEND law and guidance.

The areas covered by dispute resolution services are disagreements between:

  • parents or young people and local authorities, the governing bodies of maintained schools and maintained nursery schools, early years providers, further education institutions or the proprietors of academies (including free schools), about how these authorities, bodies or proprietors are carrying out their education, health and care duties for children and young people with special educational needs (SEN), whether they have Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans or not. These include duties on the local authority to keep their education and care provision under review, the duties to assess needs and draw up EHC plans and the duty on governing bodies and proprietors to use their best endeavours to meet children and young people’s SEN
  • parents or young people and early years providers, schools or post-16 institutions about the special educational provision made for a child or young person, whether they have EHC plans or not
  • parents or young people and Clinical Commissioning Groups or CCGs (CCGS are the parts of the health service that pay services or commission them to provide health services like Speech and Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy etc.) health bodies or local authorities about health or social care provision during EHC needs assessments, while EHC plans are being drawn up, reviewed or when children or young people are being reassessed
  • disagreement resolution services can also be used to resolve disagreements over special educational provision throughout assessments, the drawing up of EHC plans, while waiting for Tribunal appeals and at review or during re-assessments.

Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP)

If you are unhappy with a decision made by the local authority about your request for an EHCP, or the content of your son or daughter’s EHCP, you have the option to go to First Tier Tribunal (SEND) for an independent review of the decision.

Before going to Tribunal, you must speak with a Mediation provider

You are able appeal to the SEN Tribunal if the local authority:

  • Decides not to carry out an EHC needs assessment or re-assessment
  • Decides not to issue an EHC plan
  • Issues or amends an EHC plan but you disagree with any or all of the contents of Section B (special educational needs), Section F (special educational provision) or Section I (placement)
  • Decides not to amend an EHC plan
  • Decides to cease to maintain an EHC plan

Mediation is a less formal way of working out a solution to a problem. It involves the use of a completely independent person who is trained in resolving disputes to help the people involved agree on a way to resolve the problem.

Mediation works best if the people involved are able to compromise as in these circumstances the mediator is able to use this to try and obtain an agreement that all involved are happy with. The cost of mediation is paid for by the local authority. The decision to go to mediation sits with the parent/carer/young person.

  • If after speaking to the Mediation provider you wish to go straight to tribunal, you will be issued with a Mediation Certificate within three working days.
  • If you do decide to try mediation and it is not successful or only partly successful the mediator must issue you a Mediation Certificate within three days of the process finishing so you can go to tribunal.
  • You must speak to the mediation provider within two months of receiving the decision that you are unhappy about, otherwise you will lose the right to go to tribunal as the law only allows you to appeal within two months of the decision OR one month from the date of the Mediation Certificate, whichever is longer.
  • A mediation meeting will be arranged within 30 days of your request to pursue mediation and a certificate will be issued after mediation has concluded.

For information about mediation, details of the authority’s mediation provider or advice about tribunal please contact the SEND Information, Advice and Support Service (SENDIASS).

Information about how to appeal and guidance about what happens at a tribunal hearing can be in the Code of Practice for SEND 2014 (paragraph 11.50-11.52).

Appeals should be made directly to the HM Courts and Tribunal Service (Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal).

HM Courts and Tribunal Service contact details are; 1st Floor, Darlington Magistrates Court, Parkgate, Darlington, DL1 1RU,

or by e-mail at sendistqueries@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk or by telephone on 01325 289350 or at http://www.justice.gov.uk/contacts/hmcts/tribunals/send.

The Government are extending the powers of the First-tier Tribunal (SEND), sometimes referred to as the ‘SEND Tribunal’, to make non-binding recommendations about the health and social care aspects of Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans as part of a two-year trial. The trial will apply to decisions made or EHC plans issued/amended from 3 April 2018. 

It is only possible for the Tribunal to consider the health and/or social care aspects of the EHC plan where you are already making an appeal in relation to the education aspects of the EHC plan.

If you wish to appeal against a local authority decision and request Tribunal considers your concerns about the health and /or social care aspects of the EHC plan, you should follow the normal process for bringing an appeal to the Tribunal and tick the box on the form relating to a health and/or social care appeal. Advice on making SEND appeals to the Tribunal is available from the GOV.UK website: https://www.gov.uk/courts-tribunals/first-tier-tribunal-special-educational-needs-and-disability

There will be an independent evaluation of the trial to inform a decision on whether the new tribunal recommendation powers should be continued after the trial. It is important that the evaluation is based on robust evidence, and the evaluators are therefore strongly encouraging participation from parents and young people through telephone or online interviews. Parents and young people that take part in the trial will receive a letter from the Tribunal explaining more about the evaluation and how their personal data will be stored confidentially and how it will be protected.

You can also contact SENDIASS for advice, support and resources. This service provides advice and support on special educational needs, they can be contacted at;

SENDIASS, Cambridgeshire County Council, SH1212, Shire Hall, CAMBRIDGE, CB3 0AP

or by telephone on 01223 699214 during term time or 01223 699211 during school holidays or at pps@cambridgeshire.gov.uk. (not sure if contact details should be provided or a link to their page)

SENDIASS can also provide details of the informal arrangements set up to help resolve any disagreements between you and the local authority. Using this service does not affect your right to appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal. An appeal to the Tribunal can run at the same time as any disagreement resolution.