This is the Final Report of the A Place at the Table project, which was carried out between November 2017 and March 2019 by Margaret Doyle, Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Essex School of Law.
This project has been funded by grants from the University of Essex ESRC Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) Fund and Garden Court Chambers Special Fund, with support in kind from KIDS, a national charity working with disabled children and their families. It has been carried out in association with the UK Administrative Justice Institute (UKAJI), a national network of researchers and research users based at the University of Essex School of Law.
Decisions made by local authorities on SEND provision reflect many aspects of concern in administrative justice, including the quality of initial decision-making, accountability of public bodies, human rights considerations in the delivery of public services, and mechanisms by which people can challenge and appeal such decisions. The project has sought to contribute to our understanding of the way these aspects of administrative justice are experienced through the lenses of children’s rights and participation in access to justice and to our knowledge of best practice for including children’s and young people’s voices in the process.
The project has focused primarily on young people aged 16-25 in England and their involvement in SEND mediation. Reasons for this focus includes the new rights conferred on young people at age 16 by the Children and Families Act 2014; the steep increase in mediation numbers, from 75 in 2014 to nearly 2,500 in 2017; and the distinctive role of parties in mediation, as decision-makers, which differed from their role in tribunal appeals or ombud complaints. The expectation is that it will be of value to the issue of participation of children and young people of all ages and in other jurisdictions and in other forms of complaint and dispute resolution, including appeals to the SEND Tribunal and complaints to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
The report draws on interviews and discussions; documents produced during the project, including blog posts and a briefing paper; and a summary of a roundtable discussion held in June 2018. Participants, who have been hugely generous with their time and contributions, have included mediators, tribunal members, local government, advice and advocacy organisations, parents/carers, and expert academics.
Three key themes have been explored in this project:
- Individual participation in SEND dispute resolution, including types of participation; barriers, including attitudinal barriers; and the roles of parents, local authorities, and schools and colleges.
- Mental capacity and how it is understood in the SEND dispute resolution context.
- The role and provision of information and advice to young people about their rights and their options for resolving disputes.
The report sets out emerging findings and recommendations. It can be viewed below or downloaded here.