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Advice for parents in Scotland

How can I resolve disagreements with the school or local authority?

Most concerns can be resolved by speaking to your child’s school. If you’re worried about your child’s additional support for learning, talk to the class, guidance or learning support teacher in the first instance. Schools usually have procedures for getting in touch with a particular member of staff. The school office can tell you about this.

If you are still worried after talking to the class, guidance or support for learning teacher, ask to speak to a senior member of school staff – for example the head teacher or deputy head. It can be helpful to put your concerns in writing so you have a written record of the things you have raised.

If you’re worried your child’s needs have not been identified, you can ask for the school to assess their needs. You can find out more about assessment here. If your child has a support plan or Child’s Plan you can also raise your concerns at their planning meetings. If your child doesn’t have a support plan in place and you think they would benefit from one, you can ask for a meeting with the school to discuss this. Find out more about learning plans here.

If you are unhappy with the way the school has dealt with your concerns, you should make a formal complaint to the head teacher. You can do this by putting your complaint in writing to the school. State clearly that it is a formal complaint.

At any stage of a disagreement you can ask your local authority for independent mediation. This is a voluntary process where a independent mediator works with you and the school or local authority to work together and try and sort out your disagreement.

If you are still not happy with the response from the school you can contact your local authority (the local council) and ask to speak to the Additional Support for Learning Officer and raise your concerns with them. If you remain unhappy with your local authority's response, put your complaint in writing to the authority stating clearly you are formally complaining.

You can also contact your local councillor or MSP with a complaint about a school or local authority. They may be prepared to make enquiries on your behalf, although they do not have to do this. You could also contact the councillor who chairs or convenes the local education committee in your council. You can usually find out who this is from your council’s website or by phoning your local authority.

Depending on the issue you are in disagreement about, you can ask for independent adjudication or make a reference to the Additional Support Needs Tribunals for Scotland.

You can use independent mediation at any time during a disagreement.

Regardless of how hard parents, carers, schools and local authorities try to work together, disagreements can arise or relationships can start to break down. This can happen because of differences in opinion between what you think is best for your child and the school or local authority’s views, disagreement over what support is being provided or a breakdown in communication.

Mediation brings you and the school or local authority together to try to resolve a disagreement. It gives everybody the opportunity to raise their concerns and offer solutions, with the help of an impartial mediator. The focus of the mediation is on finding a solution that is in the best interests of the child or young person. Mediation is voluntary so all parties must agree to take part. Mediation can be used to resolve any issues relating to additional support needs.

The upside of using mediation is that the people in disagreement agree the outcomes and next steps themselves. In other more formal dispute resolute options (such as independent adjudication and the Additional Support Needs Tribunals for Scotland) the decision is made for you by a third party.

Being involved in mediation does not stop you from asking for independent adjudication or making a reference to the Additional Support Needs Tribunal. The hope is that mediation explores disagreements in detail, possibly taking away the need to access these other formal routes.

By law, disagreements about the support provided for a child with additional support needs can be resolved through independent adjudication when other procedures for resolving disagreements have failed.

You can use independent adjudication if you disagree with the local authority about any of the following:

- whether your child has additional support needs
- the kind of additional support needs your child has
- refusing a request to find out whether your child has additional support needs
- refusing a request for a specific type of assessment (but not a request for an assessment
done by a specific person)
- the person doing an assessment or the examination or the way it is done
- if you think the local authority has failed to provide for your child's additional support needs
- a request from another agency such as social work or an NHS Board for your child's
additional support needs

An independent adjudicator, who does not work for local authority, will review all the circumstances surrounding the dispute and will recommend how it should be resolved. This is a paper-based exercise where both parties will have the opportunity to present any information they feel is relevant, and to make their own suggestions for how the disagreement could be resolved. The person reviewing each case will have expertise in dealing with children who have additional support needs. They will consider the circumstances leading to the disagreement and make a written report with recommendations for those involved in the disagreement.

It is expected that both parties will accept the outcome, but local authorities have no legal duty to apply the adjudicator’s recommendations.

The Additional Support Needs Tribunal is an independent and expert body that hears and decides appeals (called ‘references’) made by parents and young people in Scotland. Your right to make a reference to the Tribunal will depend on the disagreement. References can be made about:

- decisions the local authority has made about the issuing, contents or review of a co-ordinated support plan (CSP)
- the refusal of a placing request to a special school
- the refusal of a placing request to a mainstream school, if the child has a CSP
- failures by a local authority to carry out their planning duties for young people leaving school
- disability discrimination against pupils.

Appeals about refused placing requests for mainstream schools (where the child does not have a CSP) and exclusions from school are made to Education Appeals Committees. You can find out more about these in the Can I choose the school my child attends? and My child is being excluded sections.

Once the Tribunal has made a decision, the local authority must carry out the Tribunal’s decision, and the Tribunal has the power to ensure this happens. If you or the local authority disagrees with the Tribunal’s decision on a point of law, you or they can appeal. The letter telling you about the Tribunal's decision will explain how you can appeal.

The Scottish Government provides a free advocacy service to support parents (and young people aged 16 and over) who are thinking about making a referral to the Additional Support Needs Tribunals for Scotland. Let’s Talk ASN will advocate on your behalf throughout the Tribunals process to make sure your views are heard and represented. Let’s Talk ASN is run in partnership with the Govan Law Centre and Barnardo's.

Scottish Ministers will consider complaints from parents who think the local authority (or other responsible body such as the manager of grant-aided school) have failed to fulfill their legal duty under education law. This is called a Section 70 complaint (because it comes from Section 70 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.)

To find out if there has been a failure to carry out a duty, you and the local authority will be asked to provide evidence. If it seems there has been a failure, Education Scotland will investigate the case and act as advisers to the Scottish Ministers. After this investigation, if Scottish Ministers think the responsible body has not carried out a duty, they may make an order requiring it to do so.

An application form for a Section 70 complaint is available from the Scottish Government. In the application you need to put the statutory duties you think the responsible body has not met. You should say what your complaint is, when the failure you are complaining about took place and provide any evidence supporting your claim. If you have more than one complaint, you should say clearly which failed duty your evidence relates to. You can find information on where to send the form in our Section 70 factsheet.

If there is not a formal appeal process available, you may be able to raise your concerns through a local authority complaints process. If your complaint is not upheld and you disagree with this decision, you can take this to the Scottish Public Services Omsbudman (SPSO). The SPSO is independent of local authorities or councils but there are limitations on what the Ombudsman can do, for example they can’t look at complaints that have been dealt with in Court or change decisions that have been made following the a formal process. You can obtain advice directly from the SPSO about what they may or may not be able to do or if you are having difficulties accessing the local complaints process.

You can:

- speak to your child's school about any concerns you have as soon as possible
- put your concerns in writing so you have a record of the issues you raised and when you raised them
- keep talking to the school if you do think things have been resolved
- use mediation if you think that your relationship with the school is being damaged or has broken down
- find out more about formal routes of dispute resolution if you think you've exhausted the other options
- tell the school if you feel you want to take the issue to the local authority.

Possible conversation starters

- We talked in the past about my concerns about my child's support. Could we discuss how things have moved on?
- I don't feel that the situation has improved. Could you help me understand why the support has not been put in place?
- My child is being sent out of the classroom frequently. Could you tell me how you plan to manage this situation?

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