The recent tweets by law firm Baker Small gloating about its “wins” against parents of children with disabilities illustrate the failure of the special educational needs system to work as it should (Report, 15 June). The Children and Families Act 2014 is clear that all children should have their needs met and that parents should be fully involved in decisions that affect their child. This requires partnership and mutual respect, not confrontation and threats. Legal action, with good representation, should always be an option for parents who disagree with their local authority’s decisions about their child. But it should be a last resort. We are concerned at the amount of time and money that some councils seem to be spending on working out how to defeat parents. Placing expensive contracts with law firms like Baker Small to avoid spending money on support for children with disabilities is counterproductive and wrong.
Mark Lever Chief executive, National Autistic Society, Jolanta Lasota Chief executive, Ambitious About Autism, Amanda Batten Chief executive, Contact A Family, Richard Kramer Deputy CEO, Sense
• Councils have the funds to employ ruthless law firms to try to avoid paying for a specialist place. To stand any chance of levelling this advantage, parents must employ their own team of solicitor, barrister, expert witnesses etc, which costs tens of thousands of pounds (few get legal aid). And if you win the case, you do not get your costs back. Few parents can find – and then write off – this money, so it is in the local authority’s interest to drive parents to a tribunal, when many with deserving cases will not be up to the fight, either financially or emotionally, and will drop out. Local authorities are not called to account for their spending on SEND tribunals – yet some fight several hundred each year, while others record just single figures. I’d like to see a system where taking parents to tribunal is seen as a mark of failure on the part of a local authority and a system of fines where authorities can be shown to be pursuing vexatious cases.
SEN director, The Good Schools Guide