Useful tips for parents
Make sure you have a copy of the new SEN Code of Practice. This is not available in hard copy, but can be downloaded from the Department of Education website here.
Collate written evidence from school, clubs, medical professionals and any other relevant sources. Highlight areas of concern and speak to the SENCo and class teacher at school first. Document all meetings in writing and follow up any phone calls in writing.
Get more help and advice quickly via helplines and advice centres.
Remember that advice is more difficult to obtain during school holidays.
Make sure you have ready at all times a full file of all documents relating to your child – e.g. any reports from doctors, teachers, psychologists and therapists over the years, emails and letters from school.
If your child is due to change school at phase transfer stage (usually 11+ or 16+) and has a statement of SEN remember the LA should, in the autumn before the September transfer, be in contact with schools it thinks can meet needs. Ask which schools they are contacting, and then ask the LEA if they think those schools can meet the identified needs. Then ask them to send you copies of the replies from the schools. You have a right to see these documents under the Data Protection Act.
If you are not sure about the school you want, it is a good idea to be able to describe at this stage the kind of school you think will meet your child’s needs.
Make sure you know the legal timescales by which local authorities must provide information, and don’t be fobbed off with excuses. (See Page 154 of the Code of Practice.)
If you are appealing to Tribunal, make sure you and the LAs respect the times and dates set out by Tribunal.
If you think you may have to appeal to the Tribunal, make sure you fix well in advance any dates for assessment by independent professionals. You may not need assessments in the end, but it is better to cancel or delay appointments than to find yourself with no experts available. Really good expert witnesses are always very busy and you do not want to find that they are not available on those dates.
When you receive a hearing date from the Tribunal, notify your expert witnesses immediately so you can ask the Tribunal for an alternative date if your witnesses are not available.
If, during the Tribunal process, your LA tries to restrict your independent professionals’ access to your child in school by telling teachers not to give their views (by imposing a time limit for their school visit or by insisting on following them around school) do not accept this. You can always request the Tribunal to direct the LA to allow the professionals to carry out their work without undue interference.
The closer the date of a Tribunal hearing is, the greater the likelihood that a LA will try to engage in delay, or suddenly come up with another school leaving you little time to get the school checked out. Oppose any such behaviours, as they cannot be in the interests of your child.
Transport. Make sure you are fully aware of the Department of Education guidelines on school transport as LAs will often claim that a journey is too long for a child (if it suits them to say so) but perfectly fine if the LA itself is trying to send a child to a distant school.
Remember your case for obtaining the right provision for your child will be as good as the evidence you have. The importance of an up to date file is enormous.
Even if you do have all the evidence you think you need, do not expect that the LA will automatically respect it. You may well have to appeal to the SEN Tribunal in the end, but at least you can show that you have made your point!
Do not be put off by comments from LAs suggesting that they have their own way of doing things or deciding on matters. The law applies to all LAs.
Don’t accept being called “Mum”. Remind the LA and others that you have a name and insist they use it. After all, they don’t refer to each other by nicknames or similar.
Create a full paper trail. Do not engage in telephone conversations with officers, professionals or school, as you have no record of what has been said. If they phone you, write confirming things that were said or agreed in the conversation. Insist that everything is provided to you in a recorded form such as email or letter. Be polite but insist.
If you have asked for documents under the Data Protection Act, make sure all pages are there. If in any doubt, check with the source of the document or go back to the Information Officer. (It has been known for information released by a local authority or a school and required as evidence by parents to have a few pages missing!)
It is quite common for a LA that has done absolutely nothing by way of reassessment of your child will suddenly want to do so once an appeal goes in. Beware! This may well be because it realises that you will have more detailed and up to date information from your own independent witnesses.
Once you have an appeal into Tribunal, make sure the school knows that you do not wish any LA or other professionals to assess or observe your child without first receiving your written permission.
Whether you give that permission will depend on the circumstances, but if you do give permission, remember to check that they do not carry out the same tests as those used by your witnesses.
Watch this section for updates.
Clickfor details of some less than ethical tactics being used by some LAs and their tribunal officers or legal representatives.
Watch for Weasel words
Here are just a few!
"Well the legislation/courts/the Code of Practice are all very well, but here in Nutshire we have our own way of doing things."
"Yes, we know that adequacy of progress is considered to be the basis for amending provision, but we have our own criteria for what is adequate progress."
"Oh no, your child is getting good results in school and so there is nothing to worry about."
"That’s nothing to do with us – it’s up to the health authority/the school…….."
"We don’t put into a statement what the school must provide."
"That comes out of the school funding and we are not responsible."
"There’s no point in putting it in Part 3 because the NHS can provide it under Part 6."
"We’ve never done/heard/seen that before."
"That can be sorted out at the Annual Review."
"We need to keep the maximum flexibility in the statement."
"You know you won’t get this level of support in any other authority."
"That would be a very suitable school for your child."
"The school is becoming a Centre of Excellence. "