Wasting money, wasting potential – our new report

*** UPDATE – In December 2023, the Government published new statistics on SEND Tribunal cases.  These show that the situation has got even worse since Pro Bono Economics’ research.  The number of new cases rose from 11.000 a year to 13, 700.  And the Tribunal found in parents’ favour in an incredible 98% of cases (compared with 96% for the previous year and in the research).  Pro Bono Economics estimate that this means the wasted cost of Tribunals rose to £87 million a year, or probably nearer £100 million when allowing for cases settled before hearings.  Anoushka Kenley, the report’s author, explained more in this short thread on X/Twitter.   ***


We’re thrilled to share our latest report ‘Wasting money, wasting potential’ in collaboration with Pro Bono Economics.

The research reveals that more than 11,000 SEND tribunals – contesting decisions by local authorities – were registered in England in 2021-22, an increase of 29% on the previous year.

These tribunals were brought by parents, carers and young people disputing council decisions about an education, health and care plan (EHCP) for a child or young person, a legal document issued by a local authority which identifies a child’s educational, health and social needs and sets out the support that will be provided to meet those needs.

Among its key findings, the report found that:

  • 11,052 SEND tribunals were registered in England in 2021-22, up 29% on the previous year – meaning one SEND tribunal was registered for every six new EHCPs that were issued.
  • 96% of SEND tribunal hearings were won by parents, carers and young people in 2021-22.
  • £59.8mn of public money was wasted on lost SEND tribunals in 2021-22 – costs of £46.2mn to local authorities and £13.6mn to the courts.
  • 9,960 places in SEN units in mainstream schools could be funded each year with the money wasted on lost SEND tribunals.
  • Nearly 3,500 disputed EHCP cases were withdrawn or conceded before they got to tribunal hearing in 2021-22. If public sector staff spend as much time preparing for appeals that are registered but not heard, PBE estimates that total public sector spending on SEND tribunals in 2021-22 could be as high as £80mn.

Following the findings the DCP developed a list of recommendations for Government to tackle the misuse of taxpayers money. The recommendations are as follows:

  • Redirect and ring-fence resources from tribunals into early information, advice and support for young people and parents navigating the system, including additional funding for SENDIASS.  
  • Government to develop training for local council SEND officers and SENCOs on the legal framework to improve decision making and resolution at the earliest opportunity. 
  • Improve the effectiveness of mediation by: 
    • Investing in training for SEND officers and decision makers on how to support effective mediation.  
    • Identifying and disseminating good practice of ‘voluntary way forward’ meetings delivered by trained SEND officers 
    • Developing accreditation for quality of mediation services (in addition to accreditation of individual mediators)  
  • Improve data collection on mediation and appeals, to include waiting times for cases and more information on cases that are withdrawn/conceded before hearings 
  • This data, including Tribunal outcomes, to be included in the SEND accountability framework, including in the data dashboard and the SEND/CQC Joint Area inspections, and to be a trigger Government intervention in local areas.

You can find the full report here.

Easy read report available here.