At SEN Advocates, we have a very personal understanding of SEN tribunals in England. As the parents of a severely autistic girl, we have developed our expertise through personal endeavour as well as working with other parents.
Our daughter is now six years old and in a mainstream school, part-time. In July 2013, she completed two full years in a mainstream school (part-time) and two full years in a mainstream nursery (3 hours per day). As she begins Year 2, we look back and ask, “How on earth did we do it?”. Securing special educational needs provision in England is a complex process, and we have a wealth of hands-on experience gained through working on our daughter’s behalf.
In November 2009, our daughter was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2 years and 9 months. We’d long suspected she might have special needs as her speech milestones weren’t there, there was toe-walking, repetitive behaviours and indifference towards the other children in her nursery. Her lack of imaginary play was the final sign that our daughter may be facing developmental difficulties. Thus began our journey to securing the right SEN provision for our daughter.
For SEN provision in England a statement of special educational needs provision from your LEA (Local Education Authority) is required.
The first step to accessing the right SEN for your child is obtaining a diagnosis. After much consideration we chose to seek a private diagnosis. Private diagnoses can be costly. We felt it was money well-spent. Why? We obtained a diagnosis from a leading neuro-disability paediatric consultant. Upon receiving the diagnosis, the Disability Living Allowance immediately followed. Parents of special needs children will know how helpful this can be.
In February 2010, our LEA arranged for an educational psychologist to visit our daughter at nursery in order to begin the SEN statement process. The statementing process is important to securing special educational needs in England because this is how the LEA gauges the special educational needs of a particular child. In our case, the statementing process took 26 weeks. We received our statement in August 2010. We felt the statement produced was vague and lacked the specific special educational needs provision we thought our daughter needed.
ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) applies scientifically validated principles of behaviour to guide children towards socially significant behaviours while reducing those that are inappropriate or challenging. ABA is well-regarded by many as a tool for teaching and working with children with autism. In our own experience, after beginning an ABA programme, our daughter’s nursery staff noticed a significant change in her behaviour. Our little girl had been at nursery for a year before starting ABA, and the change was so significant to the nursery staff that they were happy to allow our daughter’s ABA tutors to work with her in nursery. ABA isn’t an easy option and requires a lot of time and effort, but the rewards can be great. We were very disappointed when our LEA’s SEN statement did not include ABA tuition as part of our daughter’s special educational needs provision.
The SEN statement we received from our LEA did not provide the level of 1:1, Speech and Langauge, or Occupational therapy provision that we expected. We sought to address this with our LEA before the statement was finalised. Our goal was to agree ABA provision with the SEN Manager. The SEN Manager advised us, “We don’t negotiate”.
Special educational needs in England includes an appeals process in cases where parents are unhappy with an LEA’s assessment of a child’s special educational needs. The appeals process is done via a SEN tribunal. Our LEA’s claim, “We don’t negotiate”, led us to research the SEN tribunal process, educational law firms, SEN law more widely and so forth. We determined to hire a firm of solicitors in October 2010 and by June 2011 we had won a partially funded ABA programme. We appealed again in May 2012 with the help of another law firm and in November 2012 our LEA conceded to a fully-funded part-home, part-school ABA programme with SLT and OT provision.
SEN Tribunal: How We Can Help
You’ll see from our story of obtaining SEN provision in England, that the SEN tribunal process can be difficult, lengthy and overwhelming. As a parent of a special needs child you may already have a lot to juggle with your day-to-day and taking your LEA to SEN tribunal may seem like too much to take on. We can help! Our experience has taught us some important lessons:
- Do your homework and speak to as many parents as you can about whatever it is that is on your mind. Ask a million questions, and don’t take no for an answer. Our article on SEN legal resources might be a good place to start.
- You are your child’s greatest advocate. More often than not you will be their only voice, as indeed your child may be non-verbal.
- You will need to learn a lot about your child’s condition, how to help them, the law, and how to navigate the SEN maze, but with the right help from the right people you will hopefully get the provision your child needs.
We are passionately committed to helping other parents get the special educational needs provision their children are entitled to. Let’s work together. Contact us today to find out how we can help you and your child.