As parents with SEND children, sometimes there is nothing we need more than to be and to feel empowered. The things we must go through to get our children’s needs met can sometimes feel like pushing a hundred boulders uphill whilst also trying to make sure the kids are bathed and ready for bed! It shouldn’t be this hard… but we must push on, challenge those who need to be challenged, and achieve our goals.
Beginning my appeal
Appealing the contents of my child’s EHCP made me so nervous. It’s a big deal, right? After all, it was hard enough getting through the EHC needs assessment process without finding that the plan itself was not worth the paper it was written on… Sound familiar? Trust me, it would be strange if it didn’t.
I applied for my child’s EHCP in the height of lockdown. I was told by friends that I was mad for trying, school told me I wouldn’t achieve one because ‘our LA don’t work like other LAs and their policies are different to the national law’ (I happily corrected this point of view!). But despite all the negativity, I knew my child’s needs weren’t properly understood but we had established they were definitely different to the rest of her peers (and she was on the SEN register).
False hope, followed by disappointment
The process of assessment went well, in fact I was impressed. But the LA made clear to me that they would stick to the deadlines because I had Sunshine Support involved. Now, as much as I love this, I’m sure Sunshine Support won’t mind me saying that it’s not right! Why should having an advocate change the way a SEND officer treats your case? Surely, they should be compliant and lawful no matter what? But I digress…
I was super impressed by the well-organised assessments, and it gave me hope that the outcome would be what was needed.
However, it was a false hope as the finalised EHCP was dreadful.
Needs had been identified but not written into the plan, and they certainly hadn’t had any provision added to meet the needs. The plan was vague (full of “Child will benefit from” and “Child will have access to” – the usual nonsense!) and did not describe my child at all.
I spoke to my advocate, who advised we may need to instruct some of our own assessments. So, I commissioned Libby Hill (Speech and Language Therapist) and Marina Gouzouli-Allen (Educational Psychologist) to undertake some assessments, to get a better picture of what was actually going on.
If you would like to see how an EHCP should be done, click here and have a read.
I applied for my mediation certificate one month after receiving my final EHCP (in order to appeal I needed to consider mediation, which I did for around 30 seconds as I know this often does not get the outcome that is right for the child, and then I rang up the mediation company for my mediation certificate) and then had a further 2 months to lodge my appeal to the SENDIST. This gave me plenty of time to get the independent assessments done and I was alarmed at how much more detailed they were in comparison to the LA reports.
As soon as this evidence became available to me, I also shared it with the local authority. They ignored it and continued on their path to tribunal.
My tribunal date was set for 3 months’ time (6 months on from my final EHCP being received).
My advocate began working on the ‘working document’, my LA didn’t ever update it. For those of you who might not know, a ‘working document’ is a copy of the original EHCP/IDP/Statement that both LA and parents use to propose amendments.
We tried a number of times to have a discussion to see if we could concede away from the tribunal. After all, what I was asking for was not unreasonable.
We then instructed solicitors to represent us and all of a sudden, our LA sat up and took notice.
They conceded on my case 4 days before the tribunal hearing. We achieved the EHCP my child needs!
What I know now
It was a glorious feeling to have achieved what we achieved, but still, we should not have had to fight that hard. What I wish I knew before now and that you don’t have to wait for a Local Authority to make the first move. There are other options.
We were fortunate enough to have access to fantastic advocates and excellent independent assessors who provided us with the information we needed to present our case. Having our solicitors onside too allowed us to make that extra bit of noise to get us noticed.