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Sunday, 12 June 2016

Why Baker Small (BS) should be out of business tomorrow.

Sometimes, life throws things at you that you desperately want to write about (the EU vote) but can't, due to a lack of time. Other times, you feel you have to make time to write, no matter what.

Most people involved in the world of SEND (that's Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) will probably already be aware of the Twitter storm that went on last night. The first I knew of it was when the following popped into my timeline:

Trib is short for Tribunal and ABA refers to a certain method used with autistic children chosen by some parents which is much discussed and debated. That's not the issue we're discussing today.

The attitude in this tweet is that although parents think they've won the case, the solicitors are happy with their work and with what the parents had to concede. Hardly professional, is it? To be honest, that one tweet should be enough to close this despicable company down. However, there were more tweets, several more, showing no remorse for what they had said.

For those who don't move in these circles, let me tell you a story.... except it isn't a story, it's real life. It's the sad truth that many parents of children with disabilities have to fight to get their child an appropriate education. 

Yes, fight. This firm of solicitors, Baker Small, is employed by several Local Authorities to be the LA legal representation against parents of children with SEND. Cases go to Tribunal when parents do not agree with the contents of the Statement or EHCP (Education Health and Care Plan, which determines support needed for a child with additional needs). This can include which school is named for their child. Judges then determine what provision is suitable for the child. 

We haven't yet had to go to Tribunal personally, because we were lucky to find a school which has worked hard and been flexible to accommodate Sasha's needs. We are well aware though hat Tribunal may be necessary in the near future, at the point of transition to secondary schooling (something I've written about previously on my blog here), as a child with PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance) doesn't easily fit into the currently available options locally. However, through working with many parents in this county, I'm already aware of the process, and of how painfully stressful, and expensive, and ultimately unfair this is on families who already have extra challenges in their lives.

Most children without special needs or disabilities automatically receive an education in school, where their child learns enough to make their way in this world independently. They can be taught in a traditional manner, in a class of 30, following a set curriculum. This sadly doesn't work for all. It's not the child's fault, it's not the parents' fault.

Let's be clear, it can be more expensive to educate children with special needs. There's often a need for more individual teaching or support, and of course there's a cost attached to that. This firm prides itself on reducing costs for LAs. I have no issue with money being spent in the right place, and law is in place quite rightly to uphold that. I'm sure however, that most parents are not looking for the diamond standard of education; they're not looking to see how much money they can get out of a LA, they are simply trying to fight for the right to education which is suitable for their child with needs. We could also talk about the extortionate amount of money which the LAs have spent needlessly on the services of this firm - when I say needlessly, there have been many examples of parents 'winning' in Tribunal, so the law is clear about what is right for the child. Money wasted, which could have been spent on providing appropriate education for these children in the first place. Many children have ended up out of school for months and even years, stressed to the point of breakdown (along with their parents) and left with serious mental health issues - and we wonder why the instances of mental health and costs of treatment are rising in this country? Why not get it right in the first place, and ensure there is appropriate provision for all?

The tweets clearly show that they do not have the child's best interest at the forefront. Something which Edward Timpson MP made very clear was at the heart of his SEND reforms, In his own words:

'Like any parent, I want the best for my child. Every parent should expect people who provide support for their children to make sure that support is the best it can possibly be. And every child and young person has the right to expect a good education, and the support they need to become independent adults and succeed in life. The system for supporting children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities is changing. For far too long, many families have had to fight for the support they need. That has to stop. I want to see a system where families are at the heart of things. A system where decisions taken by those who provide support for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities really do put those children and young people first. The most important people in any child or young person’s life are their parents. You know your children best of all. What you as parents think, feel and say is important. You should be listened to and you need to be fully involved in decisions that affect your children. That’s what the new system is all about.'

What we are asking for is some morals, a fair playing field, and the child to be put first. Accountability everywhere.

Baker Small. No empathy, no morals, no understanding. Hopefully as of tomorrow, no business.

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