The clock is ticking and you have a time limit to get your SEND tribunal appeal lodged before your chance expires.
Often, for parents like me, we have a tendency to rush through and send it before we have had enough time to put forwards our grounds for appeal with the detail it requires.
But when we act in haste we can often forget some crucial elements that could make the difference as to whether our case is successful or not.
As someone very wise said to me a few weeks ago, you need to make your evidence sing!
So I have put some thoughts together, from the advice I’ve acquired and my experiences so far, to formulate some top tips for parents before they lodge their grounds of appeal:
1. Above all else, take the time to prepare your case. Before you start any argument, you will need to research and learn what is being asked of you by lodging your appeal. It’s essential that you know how to fill out the form, the bundle size limit, how to submit your case and fundamentally what they are looking for specifically from the answers that you give. This government guide may be a useful starting point.
2. Next you need to take a look at your evidence and try to formulate a concise case. Too often we can overwrite the detail, particularly when our SEND cases are complex and backdated with personal grievances, it can be far too easy to explain every frustration we have had relating to the care and welfare of our children. However, some of that emotion needs to be stripped back so that the case is argued logically and strategically.
3. What will be the local authority’s argument against your appeal? It might be that they are appealing your choice of provision or it could be that there is an argument against your child receiving an assessment for an EHCP. Whatever the grounds are, it is a useful starting place to think about what the reasoning is behind their argument.
4. Then we need to counteract their argument and that requires evidence. A great start will be to look at any reports that you may have that can suggest there is evidence against their reasoning. This can be time consuming but there should be odd phrases or quotes that can be lifted that should help your case. It might be a description about your child and how their needs are not being met, what kind of provision they require or the individual plan that would work for them that is pivotal to your claim and needs to be clearly written early on in your grounds of appeal.
5. Don’t forget to use the big guns and quote the law! Links to the SEND Code of Practice (CoP link here) and the Children and Families Act 2014 (the Council for Disabled Children have written a comprehensive guide which you also may find useful – a link to this can be found here). Try to find an appropriate statement or duty that will back up your case, but it will need to be referenced in direct relation to the point you are making.
6. Have the local authority undertaken assessments on the child and identified ALL of the needs using the right reports? Are the reports thorough? Are they current and reflective of where your child is at now? Many questions to think about, but poor assessments can only lead to poor outcomes, which means it is the duty of the LA to assess correctly.
7. Are all the needs covered in Section B of the plan? Be careful to look at the wording and phrases used, are they a description of the behaviour seen or do they actually identify the root needs that underly those behaviours? These needs will need to be given more provision later on in the plan. Also, check where they are placed and whether they relate to the correct subheading. Often, behaviours we see can all be clumped into a top-heavy section under SEMH, but if considered they are often part of a different section such as Cognition and Learning or Communication and Interaction. It is imperative that they are adequately written so that they can identify the challenges rather than describe what is just being seen.
8. Be cautious to consider what sections you are appealing. For example you might tick to appeal Section I as you are disagreeing with the school named in the plan. However, it is more than likely the other sections in the plan are missing key elements, so these need to be examined closely and considered whether they can create the fuller picture and also need to be appealed against under the national trial.
9.Likewise, if the needs have not been adequately assessed in section B, then the aims or provision cannot be provided in sections E and F respectively. If reports have not been done or are patchy then these sections won’t be fit for purpose.
10. Often the rejection you are fighting is really about the cost incurred by issuing an EHCP or for conceding to a specialist provision. So it may be worth considering why those extra lengths are needed to the appellant and why those costs are more extensive when their needs are not being met. Evidencing all of the support that is currently in place or what is needed extra to enable the child/young person to access the placement, particularly if a plan is not being issued or a desired provision is not being agreed.
These are tips as parents we can follow and perhaps pick up to help our own grounds of appeal.
However, there are other avenues worth exploring in terms of finding expert help:
SOS:SEN I would recommend this site as they have a contact line and walk in SEND centres set up which are more accessible to parents. The trained volunteers I’ve met so far are wonderfully supportive, brimming with experience and expert knowledge, as well as being very professional.
IPSEA There may be a possibility to get a representative from this team, they offer expert and impartial advice. You can book a slot with one of their trained volunteers but just be cautious as these get released as and when, plus the need is so high, many parents can struggle to get through.
Legal Aid Have you checked whether you would be suitable to receive Legal Aid? It might be worth checking by ringing the website, even to rule this option out. If your case is taken on then you will be given expert help and support so definitely worth exploring in the first instance.
Kids also offer various services and information for families, which may be worth visiting their site by clicking on the link. Particularly useful is this link to the services offered by SENDIASS, which may also be a place to find information or support.
I also like this EHCP guide put together by SOS:SEN, please do drop any tips or resources into the comments below, so that we can share the information to those who may need it.