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Parental confidence in the Special Educational Needs Assessment, Statementing and Tribunal System

Family lounge scene
Published: June 2009


We carried out this study to gain a detailed understanding of parents’ experience of the Special Educational Needs (SEN) system from beginning to end.

In particular, we aimed to gain a greater insight into perceived problems with SEN provision and to identify those factors which make the system work well for some parents and not others.


Parents and carers are left confused and frustrated by the SEN system

Parents, carers and even SEN professional stakeholders find the SEN system complicated. This can lead to confusion, anxiety and frustration for families, even where practice appears to be good and parents and carers are eventually satisfied with the outcome.

Parents and carers who engage with the SEN system in a bid to make it work better for their child feel disadvantaged because the system is difficult to understand.

Barriers to collaborative working further reduce parental confidence in the system

The numerous barriers to achieving genuine collaboration within local authorities include:

  • frequent organisational change;
  • discrete departmental budgets;
  • heavy staff workloads.

The complexity of the SEN system and the lack of consensus among professional stakeholders about their responsibilities for SEN provision create further obstacles to collaborative working and reduce parents’ and carers’ confidence in the system.

Parents who understand SEN processes are more likely to agree with outcomes

Stakeholders need to take early action to ensure open and clear channels of communication both between different professional stakeholders and between parents and SEN professionals.

This is important at the outset of processes such as statutory assessment or appeals to tribunal so that parents and carers understand how they work. The same goes for during these processes so that parents and carers are well-informed about their progress.

We found that where parents and carers are not well-informed, they can feel uninvolved in the process and suspicious about the fairness of the process or its outcomes, which can lead them to question resulting decisions.


In-depth interviews with heads of SEN services from local authorities, and parents and carers of children with special educational needs.

Read the report