Birmingham City Council spent £10 million fighting appeals for children with special needs

Parents in Birmingham staged a rally earlier this month. Credit: ITV Central

An independent review into Birmingham City Council's free information, advice and support service for parents of children with special educational needs, found the council has wasted £10 million fighting appeals.

The Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Information Advice and Support Services (SENDIASS) is used by parents who want to appeal decisions made by Birmingham City Council.

This could be for a number of reasons, including being denied an educational health care plan, or appealing a decision made about their child's school.

How does SENDIASS help families and children?

Jagwant Johal from Birmingham has been through the appeal process against Birmingham City Council several times. All three of his children have severe to profound hearing loss.

Jagwant went to tribunal for both of his elder daughters, fighting the case on his own, for them to attend Mary Hear Hearing Impaired School.

He won both cases, but not without hours of stress shuffling through papers and gathering evidence.

Years later when his son Pavundeep needed to transfer to secondary school, he had to go to tribunal once again.

However, this time SENDIASS was around to give support.

Days before the tribunal, the council agreed for him to attend the school he needed.

This situation was then repeated, when Pavundeep needed to go to sixth form - at the same school.

Jagwant says he knows 'it was the work SENDIASS did that prevented them going to tribunal'.

What is happening to the free advice and support service?

Parents of children with special educational needs in Birmingham have recently set up a petition to 'save our SENDIASS' after an email was leaked from the commissioner - who was drafted in to improve failing SEND services - suggesting the service could be outsourced.

In the email he wrote: "Let me be clear, the SENDIASS review has been accepted in its entirety by the board and me.

"It must now lead to an immediate and radical reform of SENDIASS to deliver compliance and proportionality.

"If I'm not satisfied it can be achieved with support of leadership, then it will be done without. That will include if necessary the outsourcing of SENDIASS."

The worry and concern from parents led to rally outside the council house in Birmingham earlier this month.

Their view is that outsourcing would lead to them losing accountability and not having control over services that the most vulnerable children 'desperately need'.

Other parents ask 'why get rid of a service that parents have confidence in?'

Out of 600 appeals to the council, SENDIASS has supported 80% of them and overturned some decisions.

ITV News Central Correspondent Mark Gough attended the rally

A day after the rally, Birmingham City Council published the independent report.

It highlighted that more than £10 million was spent by Birmingham City Council fighting appeals between 2014-2021.

It went on to say it found 'weak policies' and a 'lack of a development plan'.

The report continued, saying: "There are two options, restructure the existing service, or commission from a different supplier."

Cllr Karen McCarthy, Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Families, said: "I would like to thank the National Children's Bureau for their hard work in producing this report.

"The city council is fully committed to improving SENDIASS so children and families get the support they need and deserve.

"This independent review report does make for difficult reading and demonstrates that the current service needs to improve processes to enable the service to better support our parents, carers and families.

"While it is a small part of our much wider SEND offer, it is an integral component so we have to ensure it provides the core support and advice that families need.

"To that end we will continue to work under the direction of our DfE-appointed SEND commissioner John Coughlan along with parents, carers and families who use it to work out a way forward.

"We understand families' concerns about the future of the service but it is clear that it must become compliant. However, we want to assure families that there are no plans to stop the family support work that is so valued.

"SENDIASS is, and will remain, an important part of the SEND system in Birmingham.

"A report on the council's response to the independent review will go to the city council's cabinet in February. The director for children and family services has arranged a meeting with families to discuss this alongside the independent SEND commissioner."