How are children’s rights considered at the SENDIST?

A child has a legal right to be heard and to have their views taken into account when decisions are being made which affect them. All reasonable efforts should be made to ascertain the views of the child about their special educational needs and the help which is needed.

The views of the child should not only be listened to, but should be properly taken into account in light of the child’s age, maturity and understanding. Children with a disability have the right to have assistance to enable them to give views throughout all stages of the processes of identification, assessment and review.

Children have a specific legal right to attend the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal and to present their own views about the impact on them of decisions which have been made in relation to their education.

Can I appeal a decision of the SENDIST?

If you wish to appeal a decision of the SENDIST, you should seek legal advice as the rules on appealing are complex. Legal advice is available free of charge from the Children’s Law Centre.

There are limited circumstances in which a decision can be challenged. These include an application requesting the Tribunal panel to review their decision. This application must be made in writing within 10 working days of the date the decision was issued. A parent/carer can also appeal to the High Court but only where the Tribunal panel have made an error of law.  

If you are considering taking an appeal against a decision by the SENDIST to the High Court you may be able to apply for legal aid under your child’s name. Legal advice is essential if this course of action is being considered.

How is a decision reached by the SENDIST?

The panel decides by a majority vote and normally gives its decision and reasons in writing within two to three weeks after the conclusion of the hearing.

What happens at a SENDIST hearing?

Special educational needs appeals are heard by a panel of three decision-makers which includes a legally qualified chairperson and two lay-members who will have relevant practical experience. The parents/carers, Education Authority representatives and any witnesses either party wish to call, may attend to give evidence. The child is entitled to attend and give evidence to the tribunal.

Parents may self-represent or may engage the help of an advocate or lawyer to present their case. In a limited number of cases, the Children’s Law Centre provides free representation in line with casework criteria.

The hearing is intended to be relatively informal with each person being given an opportunity to present their point of view and opportunities being provided to discuss matters issue by issue. However, parents/carers and professionals often find the prospect of a legal hearing to be stressful and are worried about what will happen. It is therefore important to seek information from SENDIST or from the Children’s Law Centre about what will happen at the hearing as part of the process of preparing for a hearing.

The organisation and planning of the evidence to be presented can be a complex process governed by strict legal rules, regulations and time limits.

It is therefore recommended that parents, carers, young people and any other interested parties contact the Children’s Law Centre who can provide free legal advice and information at the earliest possible stage.

Do I have to wait for a SENDIST hearing to resolve the issues?

Parents/carers should try to reach agreement with the Education Authority throughout the time leading up to a hearing and in many cases it is possible to reach agreement after lodgement of the appeal but before a hearing.

Parents/carers may use the Dispute Avoidance and Resolution Service (DARS) at any time to assist in resolving disagreements between parents and schools or the Education Authority in relation to special educational needs. This does not affect the right to appeal to SENDIST.

It is important to note that the time limit for appeal to SENDIST continues to run and the appeal should be lodged with the 2 month time limit, even if negotiations are ongoing to protect the child’s rights in the event that agreement cannot be reached.

Parents/carers may seek free independent legal advice from the Children’s Law Centre to ensure they know their legal rights before negotiating with the Education Authority and particularly once a potential agreement has been proposed.

It is strongly recommended that a SENDIST appeal should not be withdrawn by a parent until the agreement is confirmed in writing by the Education Authority and the parent is satisfied with all aspects of the agreement.