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The day I made an appeal - a parent blog

Friday 22nd September 2017

In this parent blog, Rosalind tells the story of her appeal against her daughter's Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan.

This is one parent's individual experience. The law on EHC plans and choosing a school is complex. For specific advice about your own situation and your rights please contact our Freephone helpline on 0808 808 3555. 

The decision to appeal my daughter's Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan wasn't easy. One advice service warned me against; the other said I had a good case. I'd waited until the very last moment, hoping against hope that we'd get a last-minute place at Right School. But nobody got in touch with me, and the filing deadline loomed.

By the time I sat down at my computer, it was 1am - my daughter was having a restless night. I'd had more than my own share of those, worrying that it might be better (for my mental health at least) to simply agree to a place at Wrong School. The special educational needs team at the local authority would be delighted. Other parents would understand that I hadn't wanted to fight. I wouldn't wake up at 4am worried that my legal argument was flimsy/irrelevant. And…nobody would call me 'that Pushy Mum'.

But she comes first

But you can't decide something as important as your child's education based on your potential popularity with the local education authority's ever-changing roster of special educational needs (SEN) staff, or people's tendency to mutter about mothers willing or able to make a fuss until, like parents at the end of their tether, conceding an extra biscuit to a demanding toddler, the browbeaten, henpecked, stressed-out SEN team give me whatever I want.

This wasn't about me, other parents, or even the tribunal judge. I needed to do the right thing for my bright-eyed, super-sociable 10-year-old, who was just beginning to understand that changes were afoot: who had needs which the SEN team, in their wisdom, thought could be met at two very different schools.

So why wouldn't I just accept the official rejection we'd been handed when I attempted to name Right School in Section I (the bit that deals with school placement) of my daughter's EHC plan?  The letter that basically said: 'sorry, we'd love to educate your daughter but we're all full up?' After all, the SEN team had found her somewhere else.

The Wrong School

The problem is, the place they had found was at Wrong School. Which isn't to say it's a Bad School. For some pupils, it's perfect: the austere buildings excellent for focus and concentration; the in-house work training rooms put to imaginative use; the longest-serving staff dedicated and child-focused. The trouble was, there appeared to be hardly anyone like my daughter attending it.

Some children need routine and predictability. To be in the same place with the same people, to do the same things. Not to be out of the classroom, with the outside world's many intrusive sensory challenges. But that's not my daughter. Her strength is her sociability. She like new people and needs innovative teaching to help her stay on task. For example, she understood the difference between '12' and '13' when trying on the wrong-sized skates and gets why one represents a smaller quantity than the other. In the classroom, she shows little interest.

"Do you ever take them out anywhere?" I asked. The answer did not inspire me. Austerity has affected budgets at every school, but surely something more imaginative than a trip to the local supermarket could be arranged? To get there, the children would walk past both a secondary school and a primary. Was there any chance they might use the opportunity to schedule an event or two? No? Maybe?

If these were Wrong School's cohort of children, then my daughter wouldn't fit in. Not at all. I thought about Right School, with its cheerful paintings and curious pupils, its trips outside and its own allotment. I could see her there, making friendships, having experiences she'd never forget, learning lots about life.

Decision

And so I sent off the application. Even if I failed, I'd done what I knew was the right thing. I might have to scramble to find words (and maybe experts) to justify my choice. But that could come later. For now, I'd done what I needed to do-what my daughter needed me to do. It felt scary as hell, but I knew I'd done the right thing.

PS Two weeks after filing papers, a place was suddenly available at Right School. What an amazing coincidence!

Rosalind Grainger is a writer and psychotherapist from London. She has two children, one of whom has a rare genetic syndrome and a charity-shop addiction. The other is a teenager and therefore refused to participate in this note.

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