The majority of our work at SEN Legal is in relation to schools. We offer specialist services to parents of children at both maintained (those funded by a Local Authority and so do not require fee payments from parents) and independent schools (those which require fee payments).Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal Appeals (Special Educational Needs) SEN Legal Services Maintained and Independent Schools
Here is a selection of some of the specialist independent schools in which we have placed pupils.
The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SEND) is a specialist Tribunal that deals with Special Educational Needs (SEN) and Disability Discrimination cases only. For further information, please read the 'What is the SEND Tribunal, and what matters does it deal with?' section of our website.
We have considerable experience of dealing with a multitude of SEN appeals, and over the years we have dealt with a wide spectrum of SEN including, but not limited to:
What sets SEN Legal apart from many other education law solicitors is that we specialise in Education Law exclusively and we do a significant amount of SENDIST appeals (around 150-200 at any one time, although as SEND Tribunal Appeals take 4-5 months that's around 400 plus per year). Therefore, we can ensure that comprehensive advice and dedicated, robust representation is provided to our clients. We provide representation at every step of the process, from initial negotiations with Local Authorities to request Statutory Assessments through to SENDIST case management conferences and full representation at the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal hearing itself.
It is important to bear in mind, if you have an SEN related legal problem and are considering an appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST), then you will have to act quickly, an appeal must be lodged with the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal Service within 2 months of the date of the letter from the Local Authority giving notice of the relevant decision, Statement of Special Educational Needs or Note In Lieu or Notice of Intention to Cease to Maintain. Negotiations with the Local Authority do not suspend or prolong the 2 month period for the submission of an appeal.
Appeals must be submitted to the Tribunal not to the Local Authority or to your School. That mistake can mean you are out of time and have lost your right of Appeal.The Equality Act 2010 SEN Legal Services Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal Appeals (Equality Act Rights)
SEN Legal also deals with Disability Discrimination cases. Discrimination in education is a specialised area of equality law, as the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 has now been replaced by the Equality Act which came into force in the Autumn of 2010. This imposes specific obligations on all schools and Local Authorities to ensure that children with disabilities are not discriminated against in the education system. The Equality Act substantially increases rights in this field.
Discrimination can arise in many situations, most obviously in the workplace. Whilst many solicitors will deal with Discrimination cases in general, at SEN Legal we have a unique appreciation of the education system at all levels, and the nature of disability discrimination claims that arise in the context of education, ensuring that we can give you the best advice and representation for any appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Discrimination Tribunal (SENDIST).
If you think that your child is being discriminated in an educational context, the first thing to do is act promptly - a limitation period of 6 months applies to Disability Discrimination claims.Professional contacts SEN Legal Services Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal Appeals (Equality Act Rights)
A disability, as defined by the Equality Act is widely defined to cover all significant physical and mental impairments so long as it has a significant effect on day to day functioning.
A child with a disability may be discriminated against if he or she is treated less favourably than a non-disabled pupil, or if the school fails to make a reasonable adjustment which would prevent the disabled student being put at a substantial disadvantage. However, in certain circumstances discrimination will be justified, for example on health and safety grounds.
At SEN Legal we have considerable experience of dealing with Disability Discrimination claims under the Equality Act; if you feel you need further advice about disability discrimination, please get in touch.Setting aside Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal decisions SEN Legal Services The Equality Act 2010
The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SEND) is an independent judicial body which bases its decision on the evidence that is presented to it. A case will therefore succeed or fail on the quality of the evidence at hand.
At a SENDIST Tribunal hearing, if the Local Authority contests your position, it will often do so by using expert evidence, usually through using an Educational Psychologist and a NHS Trust Therapist. Section 322 of the Education Act 1996 links your Local Education Authority with your local NHS Trust, which is why there are usually NHS Trust representatives appearing on behalf of the Local Authority at a SENDIST Tribunal hearing (demonstrating that your local NHS Trust is not as independent as you might think).
You can strengthen your position at the hearing by instructing Independent Experts, such as an Educational Psychologist, who can provide expert written and oral evidence to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Discrimination Tribunal. Through our years of experience, SEN Legal has developed longstanding and strong links with a wide cross-section of Independent Experts. It is extremely important to use an expert who has specific knowledge of the Special Educational Needs your child has, and it is equally important to use an expert who is familiar with the very specific legal issues which have relevance in the context of the SENDIST hearing itself, as well as an understanding of the administrative requirements of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Discrimination Tribunal. In other words, an expert is required who is not simply good on paper but can stand up to scrutiny during a Special Educational Needs and Disability Discrimination Tribunal hearing. A good expert witness will therefore have substantial experience of giving oral evidence in the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal. We are confident that we will be able to assist you in finding the right experts for your case, thus enabling you to maximise your prospects of success.Representation at school SEN Legal Services Professional contacts
Any appeal from the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal now goes to the Upper Tribunal. For further information, please view the 'What is the SEND Tribunal, and what matter does it deal with' section of this website.
We would like to emphasise that an appeal to the Upper Tribunal is a rare thing at SEN Legal. It is our priority in all cases to endeavour that our clients' SENDIST appeals are dealt with successfully at the initial hearing. In the majority of our cases, this is precisely what happens - our success rates, currently standing at 93.4%, for the year 01/01/2011 - 31/12/2011 are testament to this fact. However, litigation in any area of the law has an inherent element of uncertainty and there is no such thing as a 'racing cert' and, if an appeal of a decision made at a Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal hearing is needed, we can offer sound advice and continued support.
Further, detailed analysis of a decision will be required before a deciding whether to appeal and, if so, on what grounds. In most cases the opinion of a specialist Barrister will be required. Parents should be aware, therefore, that an appeal will result in further costs including those associated with the instruction of a specialist Barrister. For more details of our fee structure please read the 'Our fees' section of this websitePre-assessment services SEN Legal Services Setting aside Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal decisions
For many parents the objective of a Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST) hearing will be to secure a Statutory Assessment / Statutory Re-Assessment for their child with a view to obtaining a Statement of Special Educational Needs, or alternatively to amend the contents of a Statement of Special Educational Needs itself. But once a satisfactory Statement has been obtained, this is not necessarily the end of the matter. It is of fundamental importance to a child who has a Statement of Special Educational Needs that his or her Statement is actually implemented in the correct way.
SEN Legal can offer support to parents by ensuring that a Statement of Special Educational Needs is properly implemented. Accordingly, we can offer advice about, and full representation at, Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings and Statement Annual Review meetings. We will help you ensure that your child's educational provision remains at the required standard at all times.Statement Health Check SEN Legal Services Representation at school
We appreciate that some clients who approach us for the first time may simply be acting on a suspicion that their child has unidentified Special Educational Needs (SEN) or are looking for advice about what to do next if they have had Special Educational Needs recently identified. We are happy to offer assistance to such individuals by making initial contact with a Local Authority, requesting a Statutory Assessment of Special Educational Needs and offering advice on what to do next regardless of whether the ensuing response from the Local Authority is positive or negative.Admissions SEN Legal Services Pre-assessment services
Many Statements of Special Educational Needs (SEN) are unlawful and do not comply with what the law requires or the SEN Code of Practice. If so, it may be possible to appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST) against Statement content in order to have the Statement amended if you feel that your Child's Statement of Special Educational Needs is unsatisfactory, or would simply like to find out whether it is sound for peace of mind, then we can undertake an assessment of your child's Statement of Special Educational Needs and inform you whether there are any problems with it and, if so, how to go about rectifying those problems.
To do this, we will require:
We offer this service at a fixed rate of £150.00 plus VAT. This price is inclusive of an assessment of the above mentioned documents, and telephone advice about next steps.Exclusions SEN Legal Services Statement Health Check
For children with a Statement, the system at Secondary transfer is subject to the normal SEND Tribunal Appeal.
Finding the right school for a child at secondary transfer level can be a daunting and stressful process for parents without a Statement, particularly those with Special Needs at School Action and School Action plus.
An admissions policy is created and maintained by an Admissions Authority, which is usually a Local Authority unless the Local Authority has delegated that responsibility to another body, for example to the Governing Body of a school.
In the case of Local Authority maintained schools, in most cases parents are entitled to indicate their preferences. Whilst parental preference is important, the Admissions Authority is not bound by it. The general rule is that an Admissions Authority must comply with the parental preference unless:
However, some exceptions to this rule apply; for example, where a child has a Statement of Special Educational Needs, the Local Authority must take into account the wishes of the parent subject to the child's age, ability, aptitude or to his/her special educational needs, or unless the attendance of the child at the school would be incompatible with the provision of efficient education for the children with whom he/she would be educated, or the efficient use of resources. This too has exceptions relating to Statemented pupils in a mainstream educational setting to which Section 316 / 316A of the Education Act 1996 applies, although this is a highly technical legal point.
All parents will have a right of appeal against an admissions decision. This will generally be directed to the Local Authority or the school's Governing Body, depending on the type of school in question. Appeals are made in writing and are thereafter heard before an Appeal Panel. The Panel is comprised of lay members, and whilst some parents may feel comfortable representing themselves, the fact is that gaining a place at a popular school is a highly competitive process, and having an experienced practitioner, who is not emotionally involved in the process, advancing your interests, will give you a competitive edge.
There are also potentially complicated issues that will arise such as presentation of evidence, cross-examination of Local Authority representatives, challenges to the reasonableness of the school's admissions policy or submissions on points of law. Further, where there has been an allegation of Disability Discrimination in the admissions process, it may also be possible to bring an appeal in the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal.
SEN Legal offers advice and representation at all stages of the admissions process, up to and including representation at an Appeal Panel hearing.Further and Higher Education: Post-16 provision SEN Legal Services Admissions
The exclusion of a child from school should always be a last resort option, but in many cases, particularly where Special Educational Needs (SEN) are concerned, there are often underlying reasons behind behavioural problems leading to exclusion which are not always fully considered in the build up to that decision.
Other factors such as inadequate or insufficiently specific provision in a child's Statement of Special Educational Needs, a child's previous behavioural record, circumstances at home, peer group pressure, physical or mental health or behaviour of staff and other pupils may also be relevant to a challenge to a decision to exclude. Further, schools have a legal duty under the Equality Act not to exclude on account of a disability.
The decision to exclude is an exercise of discretion for the head teacher of a school; exclusion can either be permanent or for a fixed period. For maintained schools, where there has been an exclusion of either variety the first route of appeal is to the school's Governing Body. The Governing Body has the power to reinstate a pupil, but need not do so. If a negative decision is reached, parents can thereafter appeal to an Independent Appeal Panel established by the relevant Local Authority.
Where independent schools are concerned, if an appeal to the Governing Body is unsuccessful then a civil action may have to be brought in the County Court, such as for breach of contract. In both the maintained and independent sector, where there is evidence of Disability Discrimination in a decision to exclude, it may also be appropriate to lodge an appeal in the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal.
SEN Legal offers advice and support at all stages of the exclusions process.
In some cases, disputes may arise between parents and a Local Authority as to what direction a young person should take after finishing the mandatory part of secondary education. It may be that the school at which the child currently attends can continue to cater for his or her special educational needs after the age of 16. However, it may alternatively be the case that a different school or college is more appropriate. Opinions may also differ between parents and the Local Authority. There are cases where, for example, a Local Authority issues a Notice Intending to Cease to Maintain a Statement of Special Educational Needs asserting that a local Further Education (FE) post 16 placement is more appropriate, or amends the Statement of Special Educational Needs to name another school.
If the parents of a child/young person object to such a decision, it will be necessary to submit an appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST).
SEN Legal can offer advice, support and representation at every stage of the transitional process to ensure that your child is able to continue his or her post-16 education in the most appropriate fashion with as minimal an amount of disruption as is possible. We can also offer specific help with seeking Assessments under Section 139A of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 (as amended by the Education and Skills Act 2008). This provision imposes certain obligations on Local Authorities to undertake Statutory Assessments of young people with learning difficulties going into further or higher education.Further and Higher Education: Judicial Review SEN Legal Services Further and Higher Education: Post-16 provision
Like any stage in the education process, moving on to higher education can be a critical, if not defining point in a young person's life, particularly in terms of career prospects. At SEN Legal, we appreciate and understand the importance of higher education, the pressures on students and parents, and the problems that can arise. For example, we can assist with the following:
In many situations what will be needed is subtle but effective negotiation with the relevant institution, but where this does not bear fruit SEN Legal has experience of dealing with higher education problems and can offer advice to students , parents and carers alike as well as representation to students.
A Judicial Review is one way by which government bodies, or bodies exercising public functions, can be held to account. The purpose of a Judicial Review is to seek a declaration from the High Court, for example stating that a particular decision is unlawful, and an order, for example quashing a decision.
Judicial Review is a remedy of last resort, and if there are other remedies available it will not be appropriate to bring a judicial review claim. This is especially relevant to Education Law due to the existence of the two-tier Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST) which has jurisdiction to hear appeals on a number of decisions made by Local Authorities relating to Special Educational Needs (SEN) and Disability Discrimination. Please see the 'What is the Special Educational Needs and Disability Discrimination Tribunal (SENDIST), and what matters does it deal with?' section of this website for further details.
However, there are still many decisions in the context of Education Law that are in principle judicially reviewable, for example those relating to some failures by a Local Authority to arrange for provision in a Statement such as specialist teaching or therapy; failures to amend a Statement of Special Educational Needs; failures of a Local Authority to undertake a Core Assessment of a child; failures to complete an adequate Core Assessment or Care Plan. It is not possible to give an exhaustive list of examples: whether a challenge by way of Judicial Review is necessary and appropriate will of course depend on the circumstances of the particular case and the nature of the decision made.
Education Law also has specific relevance in the context of human rights, which has become especially significant in public law cases since the implementation of the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporates the European Convention of Human Rights into UK law. Most importantly, a limited right to education is recognised by the Convention (Art 2 of the 1st Protocol). But other rights, such as the right to freedom of thought, consience and religion (Art 9), cruel and degrading treatment (Art 3), non-discrimination (Art 14) and the right of due process (Art 6) have all arisen in the education context.
Whilst Judicial Review is a very broad area of legal practice, at SEN Legal because we have a unique level of experience in the field of education, we are well placed to advise and act in Judicial Review challenges relating to education matters. If you feel aggrieved by a decision and need advice about the applicability of Judicial Review to your case then you must act fast - the statutory time limit for bringing a judicial review claim is extremely stringent, namely not more than 3 months after the relevant decision has been made.Court of Protection SEN Legal Services Further and Higher Education: Judicial Review
A child with Special Educational Needs (SEN) may also require help and support outside of the education context. In fact, many of the difficulties experienced by the child within the education system may also create specific problems in the family or other social settings. A Core Assessment is an assessment undertaken by a Local Authority's Social Services department to ascertain what kind of support a child needs. A Core Assessment is preceded by an Initial Assessment and, after both assessments have been completed, a Care Plan will be finalised which will detail the specific support that the child needs in his or her daily life and the services that will be provided to meet these needs. Many children with Special Educational Needs will also be eligible for, this form of support.
To obtain a Care Plan, it will be necessary to engage with Social Services and an assessment of the child will have to be completed by a social worker. Once obtained, the Care Plan will then have to be implemented by the relevant Local Authority, and it will have to be reviewed at a minimum interval of every 6 months. If a child is subject to a Care Plan, at the age of 16, he or she may also be entitled to a Pathway Plan.
Unfortunately some parents find that their Social Services departments appear preoccupied with cases involving child neglect, and have an inadequate knowledge of disabilities, even when specialist Disability Teams exist. Some parents are provided with nothing more than an initial assessment which is not what the law requires. Parents are not always aware of this. In other cases, parents can be misled about the amount of help they are entitled to, particularly when local policy is presented as if it is what the law requires. Local policy may not match what the law requires, and local administrative policies and practices do not take precedence over what the law requires.
SEN Legal can offer advice and assistance to parents in obtaining Core Assessments and Care Plans, and in challenging decisions of Local Authorities when there is a refusal to assist or an unsatisfactory outcome following an assessment.Court of Protection SEN Legal Services Information requests
In certain cases important decisions will have to be made for people who do not have the mental capacity to make such decisions for themselves. The Court of Protection is an independent judicial body which has the power, in certain circumstances, to grant an Order to appoint a Deputy to make decisions on behalf of those who lack capacity.
Conflicts can often occur concerning decisions relating to children with Special Educational Needs when the child is moving from childhood into adulthood. If parents wish to continue to manage a child's affairs post 18 as they did before the age of 18, then they should consider a Deputyship Order. An example would be a decision over who should have responsibility over a bank account, perhaps through the parents actively managing the account. It is important that if conflict does arise, parents and family members are not excluded from the decision making process by Social Services.
At SEN Legal, we act regularly in Court of Protection matters and have a strong track record of achieving results that help to ensure that parents stay involved in the important decisions that affect their child's life. For example, we act in cases where:
We can offer advice and representation in relation to Court of Protection matters to ensure that the correct decision is reached for you and your child, or to challenge a decision that has already been made with which you disagree.Services for Independent Schools SEN Legal Services Court of Protection
Sometimes, in order to gain more information so that an informed decision can be made as to whether to commence proceedings or alternatively, where litigation has been commenced, in order to gain more information to strengthen the client's position, it will be necessary to be proactive and seek out the relevant evidence.
As public authorities, Local Authorities (LA), LA maintained schools and Primary Care Trusts / NHS Trusts will be susceptible to requests made for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Through the Data Protection Act 1998 it is also possible to obtain a copy of your child's school file, information held about your child by the Local Authority, as well as your child's NHS file, including any emails, faxes or notes of telephone conversations made in connection with your child. Both statutes can be used to gain additional, and potentially useful, evidence to support your case.
Both the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Data Protection Act 1998 are complicated to interpret, and the rights of access to information are subject to exceptions. Therefore, it is important that requests for information are presented in the correct way. The reason why we have such impressive success rates at SEN Legal - currently at 93.4% (01/01/11 - 31/12/11) - is because we take a forensic approach to the management of our cases. We always aim to leave no stone unturned, so that when your case reaches the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal, you are in the strongest evidential position you can be.SEN Legal Services Information requests
Although we offer most of our services to parents, SEN Legal has a track record of offering discreet services to Independent Schools, especially on the following matters:
We are always happy to discuss issues of this kind and assist.