I have been astonished by the reaction to my last couple of blogs: Legal Alien described how my son, Alfie had been prevented from having a part in his Y6 leaving assembly, and about how the secondary school he was meant to be going to had a habit of lining non-mobile pupils up in neat rows at playtime, with no interaction. Recollections was about how Alfie came home from his last day at primary school with a virtually empty leavers book. No memories, no future.
I feel these 2 blogs have really touched a nerve, and I think one of the reasons so many have commented and shared is that it’s something everyone can relate to; not just parents of kids with SEND. Teachers, parents and grandparents of kids without SEND, those who don’t have kids have been equally outraged about a disabled boy who has been ignored. About disabled kids who can’t speak or move, who have been left at playtime doing nothing. It’s easy to picture, and those who have an ounce of kindness would struggle not to feel sad doing so.
The thing is though, if I’d blogged about how I’d been stitched up at tribunal by an Educational Psychologist and a Physiotherapist, or how the LA didn’t follow directions from the judge, or how the LA have just removed the amount of 1:1 my son needs at school from his EHCP, not many people would be interested. Less would be outraged. Not because they don’t care, but because not many people know how the SEND system works, what the jargon means or that there is a ‘system’ in which parents have to jump through hoops to even enter sometimes. Through no fault of their own, they think children and young people with SEND go to a school of their parents’ choice, get the support they need, and it’s that simple. But it’s not!
What I hate about the SEND Minefield by Debs Asplands beautifully describes the issues parents of children with SEND face, and if you add these stresses on to the feelings parents have when their child is completely ignored at the end of their primary school years, the reality is pretty grim.
Local Authorities and schools have a legal duty to make sure what a child needs in order to learn and grow into a valued member of society is provided, but too often this doesn’t happen and some of the reasons are too complicated to explain. They are often too complicated for parents to challenge, and when a cash strapped LA pays for very expensive solicitors and barristers to make sure a parent has no chance of successfully challenging the injustice, the child suffers. The family suffers. Parents break up, brothers and sisters feel neglected, debts pile up to pay for legal help, mental health is affected, and the list goes on. (Katherine Runswick-Cole talks here about the horrendous experiences parents have faced at tribunals.)
I’m currently in a position where I can access legal help to challenge injustice for Alfie’s education. I’ve not always been able to, and the last 2 tribunals broke us as a family. It’s so unfair that local authorities use tax payers money to fund (often disreputable solicitors and barristers just to ‘win’ against parents, with no regard for the child at the centre, and I believe LAs should also fund (using the same tax payers money) solicitors or barristers instructed by parents, to represent parents, to level the playing field.
I know this idea sounds unrealistic, and it is, because tribunals shouldn’t be like criminal courts, where barristers and judges talk about cross examination and examination in chief. [And a lot of the time, none of the tribunal panel or legal representatives will have even met the child being dissected!] There shouldn’t be solicitors and barristers in the tribunal room, but LAs will fight to the end and often the 11th hour just to deny the child his or her right to an education that will create opportunities for them to reach their potential. Not even exceed it. Just to not be forgotten and ignored.
I think everyone should be asking local authorities why they shell out so much on solicitors and barristers instead of investing the money in education, and if my petition reaches 10,000 signatures before December, the government will hopefully respond to my idea of making LAs fund the parents’ legal fees as well. Let’s face it, no one is going to agree to making LAs spend even more money they allegedly don’t have, but what the petition could do, is make people talk about the failings our children with SEND are having to deal with and hopefully do something about it instead of constantly sticking their heads in the sand, and waiting for things to bed in.
Please sign, and ask others to sign as well. You don’t have to be a parent of a child with SEND. Anyone with an ounce of kindness can sign.