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Parent Voices: Real Stories from EHCP Parents

Reading Time: 9 minutes

if you would like to feed into these stories and join the anonymized post, mail me using the contacts with your story. I work in the stress and anxiety space and tend to meet and draw stories from those who have had stressful experiences engaging in the Special Education Needs process. Not everything in life is bad, always bad and never good. That being said if anyone has positive experiences, do mail them through also, to keep the flames of hope burning brightly.

Parents can face a unique set of challenges navigating the special education needs system for their child, from the complexity of the task ahead, the amount of paperwork that needs to be compiled, and the decisions with long-term impacts that have to be made.

To understand what it’s truly like, we invite those who have been there to share their experiences and any lessons learned.

Voices from the Front Line of the EHCP process

A parent’s view on the Waiting game

“The most frustrating part is the endless waiting. Deadlines always appear fluid.

You find yourself in 2 modes, chasing or waiting. The lack of information always seems to hover around a Friday afternoon, when you check the time, you tell yourself, maybe Monday. This constant cycle of anticipation and disappointment wears you down, leaving you feeling stuck in a perpetual state of internal conflict.”

A parent’s view on the clock you cannot stop

“I look back at appealing the decision of refusing to carry out an assessment [Education Health & Care Plan Assessment] by the Local Authority, that took months to turn that decision around, then the time spent collecting information for the assessment, and the process of securing an EHCP, and then the time spent appealing the contents of the EHCP.

From end to end, you add all of these times up, and very little changed for my child during that time, the whole time of these appealed decisions. You cannot get this time back. The very reason we started on this journey was to secure access to education, yet the process itself seem to divert effort away towards a collection of people adding opinion into a document called a EHCP.”

A parent of a Send child: school experience

“In my opinion, parents should take the lead in requesting a statutory assessment for their child directly with the Local Authority if they feel they are stuck waiting. It did not help, that the Senco we were working with retired later that year, and it took a while for us to realise, that there was little behind the agreed action, and that the school would be ‘collecting evidence’ to support the process. We found this out when we eventually submitted our section 36 notice to the council to request an EHC Assessment, we asked the school for some additional evidence to submit, and this ‘collecting evidence’ stage appeared to be quite empty. I do not know how common this is, or if, a change of staff etc compounded it.

So I would say, take control of the process, we had some positive experiences before going down the EHCP rabbit whole, with some classroom adjustments, and extra reading, but you do have to see it in the long term, you are only with an accommodating teacher for 3 terms and then your child is off to the next class. Without anything in place, at some point, your child’s education may well come off the rails. The transition from primary to secondary is like a complete reset.

Before we secured the EHCP, I remember sitting through one parent’s evening with the view, that my child’s education was no longer this teacher’s issue in 3 months. Sounds a bit negative, but you do get that clinical when things are not working well and you’re discussing the same challenges, the same adjustments repeatedly with different people or the following year’s new staff rota. The EHCP does bring that conversation to a single point of discussion.

Above all, parents should not be discouraged by schools or local Authority initial feedback, and should exercise their right to seek additional support for their children, the process is not quick.”

A parent’s SENDIST Tribunal Experience

“I would not say, in my view, it was a family-centric process, but that could be naive, this is after all a legal Tribunal with a judge. Though I have heard from others, there can be variability of experience based on the Panel makeup. If you have any experience with the legal system you may not be too surprised by it all. Still, I found some of the things I had held on to, as evidence of procedural fault, or where the process was stacked up against us unfairly, were swiped off the table in a blink, and then to add salt we were scrapping on a point against us, raised by the council, on something which came out of nowhere. All the interest was focused on this one, what we felt, an insignificant point, and that’s where you can feel the fight for an appropriate education begins to slip away.

To my nonlegal mind, and I agree you could argue that this was the fault and not the process we had ended up in. It felt like the law and statutory guidance set out quite clearly, how the council, schools, etc should be operating. So with these held views, we came to the tribunal thinking this is the first time natural justice will be served.

You carry this thought, this will be a straight bat against the published acts and pages of policy guidance, that no one is following. No! the tribunal carries out a balancing act that I can only think is necessary to keep the whole Local Authority system creaking along. Why are things that are in the statute off the table, or irrelevant in our case, I cannot get my head around that, but that is how I found the justice system working, it balances the arguments, and along that balance, items drop away like snow. My nonlegal mind is the fault!

One of the eye-openers for me was how much of the school’s lack of process was completely irrelevant to the Sendist Tribunal Process or even a factor that influenced the outcome. Yet with no process how can they meet the needs of the child? To me it’s like giving a contract to a company to fly to the moon, one verbalises about their rocket, but never shows evidence it even exists, to me that’s how far the balancing act has gone to keep the whole thing creaking along.

The lack of evidence provided by the school turned into the benefit of the doubt and in its place, verbal opinion! Call me nieve, but where would verbal opinion agree with the parents who have taken this all the way to SENDIST? Maybe it happens.

We did not go into the process with legal representation, that is where the lesson learned is perhaps. We did spend some time prior going to a charity drop-in service, where one of the volunteers with a legal background, also went through the papers discounting sections and zorrowing in on key fundamentals. So I am not here to say the justice system is flawed, you just need to have some knowledge of this type of education legal process or look to find some representation to help, and then perhaps they would have structured your case against those key fundamentals. The timetable was set by the Judge, even if we could afford legal representation there is no guarantee that the fundamentals of your case are the fundamentals the hearing will choose to focus on.

I would finish off, that I spoke to one parent who found SENDIST a liberating moment in the process, and the errors by the Council and the School were ‘striped apart like the bark of a tree’ – this was just my experience of it, is my point – good luck!. I also believe the statistics indicate Parents win the majority of cases, just do your home work, speak to those in the know, this was just my opinion of it.”

A Parents Past Reflection on getting a diagnosis

“There are without doubt many obstacles in the way of getting a diagnosis for a child with special needs. The process is way longer than I anticipated. The early referrals on reflection were little more than a set of parental tips and strategies.

I am not qualified as a SEND Expert, in our case, it just added delay to agreeing to a set of battery tests to define a diagnosis and a needs assessment. I am only a parent who can apply a common sense approach, but it would seem to me, with a keen eye on these things, it should have been clear that there were challenges that went beyond the home-bound tips.

I did not think of it at the time, but these early rebuttal referrals focused on the home when it was the school in our case that made the actual referral.

My main reflection is to read a lot about the special education needs process and compile a game plan for your child, not just for the current academic year, but also for the years ahead and be prepared to battle.

As a parent, you can request an EHCP (Education, Health and Care Plan) assessment from the local council directly, if via the school is not happening. In my experience, having a great SENCO was incredibly helpful, [but], even within my social group, this view was not readily agreed with, with a view that some are possibly more adept at balancing a very small pot of resources than others, and being a little bit more clear. On reflection, you do tend to tune out on those telling you things that you do not wish to hear.

It took us around three years from the first engagement with the health authority to an official diagnosis for my child and getting the whole EHCP secured. My advice to parents would be to start early if the evidence is there, be persistent, and proactive, and involve as many agencies and professionals as possible to get the support and resources your child needs to thrive.”

Parent’s Opinion on the false assurance of the School meeting the EHCP provisions:

“Getting the EHCP went right through to a booked SENDIST tribunal. We did eventually agree to not pursue the school we were trying for, and then the agreement on the provisions and needs in the plan eventually became settled. A form was submitted to SENDIST, if I remember, to withdraw from the hearing date, or vacate the date in their language and it was specified what the agreement was. This was done on paper and we did not attend a hearing.

The plan [EHCP] on paper we thought should make a difference, but we had to accept the school we were going for was not going to happen. Without going into the specifics the council had saved £1000s in school fees, we didn’t have £1000s for a group of experts. Everyone was assured for the final years of my child’s current school, [before transition], needs would be met.

I remember asking the school we were now staying at, why they did not request more funds to implement the plan they were now legally required to deliver, and the response was in short quite a surprise, something along the lines because the council had told us the child is a category (cannot recall) we can meet the needs. I clarified that the plan had evolved with over 60% of changes, and the funding had marginally shifted. The school in this process had no voice it seemed, or did not want to project one, or perhaps that was all done behind closed doors. I do not know if this is unique, or what the school/council relationship is on these matters.

Should have been an early red flag, and indeed, it was a red flag.

Cannot stress enough the importance of getting the EHCP properly specified. A lot of the language from the LA experts was unspecified, and the council EHCP writer simply copied and pasted chunks of text from the LA expert reports into the plan. As most parent keyboard warriors will know, case law requires provisions to be specified, this question is settled. All of the council experts wrote in the same way. The only way to get the language specified was to go through SENDIST, or in our case up to the door of a SENDIST tribunal.

Even when specified, does it ever get delivered? What was the point of battling over specified language, even when all parties agree, it does not get delivered in the way specified. We had one provision that was specified correctly, with the resource type and hours. You eventually find out, through others, that the name of the 1-to-1 resource, is a resource that visits the school once a week, on a rota for the entire school. This is why the funding did not change, in fact, access to this resource could have just happened, without 2 years of battling the process, if the outcome was to provide access to a school-wide resource that was there anyway. Before concluding well this was an efficient use of funds, I beg to differ as the frequency of this specific resource was variable at best.

This is why I think there is so much stress and ill feeling about the whole thing, there is no area in life, personal or professional anyone would put up with this, but Special Education Needs – anything goes.

Sorry didn’t mean to be so negative about this topic, but once you start, it all comes out”

Parents’ View on Securing a New School

“Before you get into the actual process of naming your preferred choice, which we did in year 6, for a transition to year 7. The Local Authority still has a part to play in agreeing the move. As parents, there is indeed a parent choice to name the school, but where there are costs involved, the council will, if they have the option to, name their preferred choice. In our situation, we reached an agreement on our choice, with the agreement that we would not seek transport, as our school was further away. We did not agree the school they chose could meet the needs of our child, but there comes a point, where you need to make an agreement and adjustment and just move on.”

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