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Here are some suggested organisations that offer expert advice on SN.

SENDIST tribunal

(39 Posts)
alicecalvert Mon 04-Jul-11 18:45:14

I am a parent of a child with special needs, who has been inspired to study for a law degree (which starts in September) - planning to specialise in education law.

I'm doing a bit of research about the way SENDIST tribunals are run - in terms of the fairness, efficiency etc. of the whole proceedings. I have recently been to tribunal myself - and although the result was positive, the hearing was conducted in a very haphazard & biased way. I wondered if others might have similar experiences?? I would be very interested to hear stories from parents who have been to tribunal over the last couple of years. I intend to collect these stories together, and possibly publicise them (in anonymised form), in the hope of improving matters for the future. If I receive enough stories, I will write some sort of report of the findings and publicise it on the internet so that other people can read it and use the information to improve the process for parents who need to go to tribunal in the future. Obviously I will be really careful that nobody can be idenfied in the final report - and that includes tribunal staff (I don't want to start a witch hunt).

My understanding is that the main organisations who help parents navigate the system do not have the resources or the time to do this sort of research themselves - but of course I will be happy to share my findings with them.

Many thanks!

Starchart Mon 04-Jul-11 18:53:07

Hi Alice,

PM me so I can ask you a few questions.

Also, there are a group of us hoping to do something of that nature (although not yet defined) and we may have the man-power to help you with your research if you and our objectives can meet.

Starchart Mon 04-Jul-11 21:46:24

My story in brief:

Lost a tribunal due to a biased judge and panel member notorious for ruling against parents, despite us having incredible evidence against the LA's none. Our case was so strong that the LA threw provision at us in order to not give us what we want. They lied about the costings and the panel allowed this. The judget made us wait 8 weeks for their decision.

Had very likely appeal grounds but advised that as ds under 5, the time spent waiting to appeal would be as long as the time until the statement review so may as well wait.

At Statement review, the LA removed most of the provision they threw at us, changing the wording of what was left to be unspecified and unquantified. They dragged out this review process to the legal statutory timelines.

We now have to appeal again, but save the LA a further 6 months of having to fund provision and costing us another 6 months of stress and money to fund expert witness reports.

We know that should a certain couple of judges get our case then we will have lost again.

alicecalvert Tue 05-Jul-11 16:06:15

What an absolute nightmare Starchart :-( My own experience was only a fraction of that - but certainly included similar shenanigans - a biased judge and a LA who didn't even bother to prepare any sort of case. I wonder if this sort of thing happens often......

alicecalvert Tue 05-Jul-11 16:10:51

I won't be naming any names in my report - but the initials of the judge we had was AC - just wondered if we are talking about the same person (hope so, otherwise there are THREE to avoid :-()

Starchart Tue 05-Jul-11 16:30:45

No. But AC is notorious.

Ours was JB but heavily influenced by a different AC.

Believe me when I tell you that my story is only marginally horrific to some on here.

cansu Tue 05-Jul-11 16:52:22

I have been to tribunal twice now. Both had positive outcomes but were also very stressful and I feel could have gone either way. It seemed that the strength of my case was irrelevant; it was very much down to the judge's views. I was lucky that I had two witnesses whose views were respected. Also that these witnesses had both worked for the authority so were seen as being independent. It was also clear in one case that the LA were poorly prepared and the school didn't really have a good story prepared to explain my ds poor progress. In one of the cases I felt the LA rep was being very obstructive when we were sent out to discuss the statement to see where we could agree. This was particularly annoying when I had given them several opportunities to do this prior to the tribunal and they were uninterested. It felt like they were rtying to waste time so there wasn't enough time to actually examine the case with the panel. The judge also nearly accepted new evidence across the table in the middle of the tribunal hearing; she had to be stopped by one of the panel members who reminded her this was unfair! I prepared both cases myself and the amount of work was crippling. I had some advice and support from IPSEA which was helpful, but it was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.

suzylovesshoes Tue 05-Jul-11 17:02:37

I am possibly thinking of appealing my local authority decision on naming a school in part 4 of my DS statement and making representations for a private school. I considering paying for a solicitor to ensure that I get a fair hearing. I have been advised this may cost £6 to £11,000 by a solicitor I have been strongly recommended. I contacted IPSEA and was advised that my money maybe better spent on expert evidence. Obviously I do not want to have to get a loan for this but will if I have to so that I get the right school. The appeal process sounds very stressful.

appropriatelytrained Tue 05-Jul-11 17:07:06

It is. I am facing this at the moment and will have to pay thousands in legal and expert fees to win provision which, when all said and done, will probably be absolutely rubbish.

An expert said to me recently - you would be better off spending that money on decent provision and I think she has a point.

The worse thing about the process so far is the amount of time the authorities and NHS agencies and school spend trying to defeat your claim irrespective of cost, time etc and to the exclusion of attention on the quality of provision. Oh, and the lies, the lies, the endless lies from everyone around you about a CHILD!

cansu Tue 05-Jul-11 17:13:13

It is stressful Suzy but I am glad that I didn't pay for a solicitor as it is no guarantee of a good outcome. I had an independent specialist school named in my ds statement through tribunal. The key was to pin down what the school hadn't been providing and also to demonstrate his lack of progress. I went back through Annual review reports for several years and found that according to the schools own data he had either gone backwards in the p scales or stayed the same. I really think that the school paid little attention to this data as some parents with children who have profound difficulties don't really look too much at it. They were a little shocked to be picked up on with this black and white evidence of lack of progress. I also made sure that I had been raising my concerns about his lack of progress in key life skills in writing for the past two annual reviews before I asked for a change of school. I spent some money on experts: eduncational psychology assessment and I managed to convince his SALT to be honest about his lack of progress as a witness. This helped hugely. Good luck with it.

Starchart Tue 05-Jul-11 17:17:06

My impression is, that on the whole, parents feel they had a fair hearing.

However, I don't think there are many parents that don't arrive at tribunal livid at the dirty tactics of the LA.

It's all very well getting a fair hearing and the judge insisting that the LA specify provision, but ffs, why are you at tribunal for that. Where is the compensation for the stress getting you there, not to mention the 6 months of non-existent provision in the meantime.

You can spend your life savings on trying to get what your child is entitled to, - adequate, and irrelevant of the strength of the case you can lose because of the luck of the draw in judges and panels.

Our Judge went to extreme lengths to detail why he refused our provision, but what it amounted to was a list of all the people that ds had ever seen, including his GP, HV, Swimming teacher and declare that they hadn't recommended what we were asking for, and that only our independent EP and SALT did.

Well, if any of them HAD recommended it we wouldn't be at tribunal would we?

Starchart Tue 05-Jul-11 17:19:05

I think also that in trying to be 'informal' and 'accessible' they have also disbanded with the 'professional' and the personal humilation of parents and questions that quite frankly would never be allowed in a true court are asked.

suzylovesshoes Tue 05-Jul-11 17:45:35

my son is 6, diagnosed with ASD ?maybe Asbergers. permanently excluded from school. LA providing 2hrs of education per day even though legally should have 21 hours as he has a statement. Also LA also looking for new school following Annual review in April but all local mainstream schools with a base full and requested 2 other schools out of borough but these are full too. I am looking at another school in tomorrow in neighbouring borough which has spaces! If this school offers a place and I do not like it I am considering appealing for a private school where I have been offered a place. My dilema is accept a not so good local primary school with a special needs base or send DS to private school for children with speech, language and communication problems. I feel now is the best time for me to get what I want as at the moment we do not have a school at all. Really I feel like taking them to court under the equalities act but not sure if I have the energy or a case! Thanks for listening. Ultimately is my decision but finding it very difficult to make.

cansu Tue 05-Jul-11 18:32:47

You are in a strong position and I would definitely take advantage of that to get the best provision you can.

alicecalvert Tue 05-Jul-11 18:33:20

Sounds like you might have a case for judicial review (over the non-delivery of the provision in his statement). This can be done in your son's name, so unless your son has an enormous income of his own, he would get legal aid (ie it is free, and the LA will know this). Often the threat of judicial review is enough to get the LA's backside in gear.

Presumably you know that the LA might have to pay for the private school - if they are not able to suggest a school that can meet your son's needs? Though you may need to take them to SENDIST tribunal (and I really hope the stories being shared here are not too offputting for you - many people get a sympathetic judge and a positive outcome. Even though we got a biased judge we still got a lot of what we asked for).

I would suggest that you call SOS!SEN 020 8538 3731 (9.30am-12.30pm and 2-5pm, Mon-Fri termtimes). The helpline is busy, but it's well worth persevering - they know far more about it all than I do, and I'm sure they will be able to help you. They give free independent advice to parents about this sort of thing (and are NOT funded by local authorities).

tiredoffightingwithjelly Fri 29-Jul-11 20:00:35

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

tiredoffightingwithjelly Sat 30-Jul-11 11:01:07

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

ArthurPewty Sat 30-Jul-11 11:17:50

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

tiredoffightingwithjelly Sat 30-Jul-11 12:39:35

Leonie - are there any specific areas you need suggestions on? Do you have your reasons clear and the points of law to which they relate? Are you taking a legal advisor or supporter with you?

ArthurPewty Sat 30-Jul-11 13:25:26

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

appropriatelytrained Sun 31-Jul-11 10:55:59

We didn't attend our Tribunal for a variety of reasons but the ruling that game make demonstrated an absolute lack of understanding by the Tribunal of its role as an inquisitorial body. This is a role confirmed in caselaw - e.g. MW v Halton BC.

This was demonstrated by the fact that:

(i) they clearly hadn't even bothered to read our reports or parental appeal - they said all the EP evidence agreed when it did not (massive difference on provision)
(ii) they made no inquiries about the child and followed up no evidence in reports about problems with training at school and inclusion

Perhaps more worrying are the glaring errors of law to the detriment of the child e.g.:

(i) accepting an argument that an increase in hours would make DS look ''more diifferent' - the Ed Act s.324 provides no such test on provision
(ii) accepting evidence that the current number of hours was enough when it in fact puts the school in breach of the current statement let alone the new statement issued with more obligations
(iii) accepting an argument that it is ok for a disabled child not to have provision in place to support his needs as per a statement because he 'coped well' without it. I actually think this constitutes disability discrimination

And this is supposed to be a court of law!

As a lawyer, I feel embarrassed. You may get this sort of poor approach with lay benches but Tribunals have a legally qualified chair and he does not deserve the position if he cannot understand the purpose of his role - to apply the education act, with a primary focus on the interests of the child, and to cut through the rest of the crap

So, after wanting to walk away from all this and start again in a less f***ed up county, I feel compelled to take this to a review as this judge needs to know where he has gone wrong. We are not likely to get much out of it in terms of increased provision for DS but challenging decisions is really the only way of making judges aware that they are responsible for their actions as it does get noted and it does professionally embarrass them.

I would urge anyone with the heart or fight left to do the same

Claw3 Sun 31-Jul-11 11:37:39

Lost at Tribunal due to the panel taking the word of the SENCO, over any independent expert recommendations ie SALT, OT, EP they even ignored the recommendations of LA SALT and EP and CAMHS.

They based the whole decision on what SENCO said on the day, she reported ds was making progress, even though she did not provide any evidence of this (no copies of IEP, no SALT, no OT programmes) and i had evidence that ds was not making progress. (ds is making progress academically and SENCO provided evidence of this, but that is not why i applied for statement, he is not making progress in areas of difficulty and hasnt met an IEP target in 3 years or SALT target in 5 years)

The panel could not see past academic progress and had no understanding of things like personal skills, social and emotional skills, speech and communication skills etc. Everything was very black and white to them and they really didnt understand 'complex' needs.

Ds gets even less help now, than he did prior to Tribunal. SENCO lied basically, i am still waiting for her to supply me with evidence of all this progress.

She also 'switched sides' at the last minute, appearing as a witness for LA, despite telling me they would back my request. Probably due to the large sum of money the LA had just given to them to build and provide provision for an ASD unit. Money talks.

Claw3 Sun 31-Jul-11 11:47:56

and they considered all experts reports to be a 'snap shot' of ds's difficulties, which is the most ridiculous thing i have ever heard. But SENCO who may pass ds in the corridor once in a while, was an 'expert' who understood his needs.

ArthurPewty Sun 31-Jul-11 17:20:30

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

appropriatelytrained Sun 31-Jul-11 17:38:12

They will call someone from the school though Leonie - it may be the head for the added weight (who cares if the head never actually works with the child?)

Who is on their witness list?

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