A great many Twitter users watched as the strangest of events unfolded on Saturday 11th June. Social media is a funny thing, there you are, sitting quite happily in the comfort of your own armchair, chatting away. Guards are down and you forget those other eyes that can be watching in, you forget that you are typing and not actually talking, you forget that anything put in writing can come back and bite you on the bum.
I’m not sure that having a cosy chat though, was on one solicitor’s mind. What seemed to be on his mind is those occasions where there’s been a big case, a case that’s tested what was actually meant by a specific strand of writing contained in a law. On the one side, there’s a solicitor, working on behalf of a Local Authority, attempting to dilute meaning so as to ‘lessen the financial burden on the LA’. On the other, because important case law might be being established, a parent may be supported by a pro bono solicitor or a legal charity, or maybe they have deep enough pockets themselves to hire a Lawyer. Their legal team will be seeking to strengthen what is meant in law, because it is important for those the law serves. Because of the importance of the clarification, the result is often widely publicised. It may in the favour of the LA, or in favour of children with SEN/D. Last week a judgement was passed in two cases which were heard together, the judgements can be found here: https://www.senexpertsolicitors.co.uk/news/clarity-upper-tribunal-young-people-ehcps/
I don’t know if this was at the back of the LA’s solicitors mind on Saturday, but his posts might indicate that it may have been the case. The judgements found in favour of the parents’ (Lawyers) understanding of what the law meant. The subsequent posts from the LAs solicitor were bizarre and the most unfortunate upshot, to borrow from a Tweet, is that the solicitor concerned may have just become the greatest whistle-blower into the workings of a SEND appeal from a LAs perspective that there has ever been (sorry, I don’t know the original posters name).
First-tier tribunals, just like the Upper Tier described above, should be about clarification. The point of SENDIST is so a parent, who remains in disagreement with an LAs decision, can ask the tribunal to act in the LAs place to decide whether or not their child is legally entitled to what is being requested. Of course, they must provide evidence for what they are seeking, whether it’s an assessment of needs, an hour a week of explicit literacy teaching or speech therapy, or a change of school. By the time that parents reach tribunal, they tend to be tightly coiled and emotionally spent. They may also be financially spent, having had to seek independent reports to support their case. The vast majority of parents will not know the law. They will make emotional appeals based on what they view as a ‘common sense’ approach. Their child might be falling further and further behind, they might not even be in school at all. Minor issues that could have been easily resolved with some early support may now be entrenched mental ill-health. the parents who found themselves in the Upper Tier will have already gone through the First Tier.
So what actually happened on Saturday night? Well, this solicitor, who has contracts with multiple LAs to defend parents’ appeals, decided to publish a taunting post. Not only was he taunting, he may well have exposed who his target family were. Big data protection no-no. It seems that the solicitor was happy that a parent did not know their legal rights and waived away the support that the child should have had, support that the child was entitled to. Yes, that was the upshot. He was happy that a parent was not educated well enough in the law to secure the support that the LA had a duty to provide.
It was suggested that he reflected on the appropriateness of the tweet and off it went. A Twitter storm. He taunted and then blocked angered parents, he also blocked professionals suggesting he ought to desist. A parent did a quickie search to look at contract values, others offered further information. It was estimated that there was over £1million in live contracts. That’s over £1million of taxpayers money being spent so that LAs can oppose amendments to SEN/D children’s support. Over £1million towards ensuring that LAs do not have to comply with their duties. £1million that could have put support and training into schools.
Were parents angry? You bet they were. Are the LAs angry? We will have to wait and see. They have been exposed as deliberately employing a firm of solicitors who, rather than advise the LA on their duties, are there to avoid them having to meet them. Quite embarrassing, yes?
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