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Oscar Gerring was not thriving at his mainstream school. The Local Authority insisted that Oscar’s identified special educational needs could be met at his local primary school. His mother, Claire Gerring, disagreed with that and set about trying to secure the support and education she felt her son required and deserved.
It was at least clear that the school could not provide a safe and secure physical environment. Oscar was subject to sustained and persistent bullying, to the point where he threatened and attempted to self-harm so he could be admitted to hospital rather than go to school. The family GP was so concerned about Oscar’s mental health and wellbeing that he referred him to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.
School staff did not have any knowledge of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) such as Oscar had and there was no appropriate peer group for Oscar to work in. His anxious parents spent months trying to obtain an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), specifying a specialist school that would better meet their son’s needs, but faced a fight with an unsympathetic and needlessly obstructive local authority.
Despite support from the local MP as well as the family GP for Oscar to attend the specialist Unicorn School, when that draft plan did arrive it was woefully inadequate and did not specify the placement, even though The Unicorn School was recommended by an educational psychologist and the authority’s own Special Educational Needs (SEN) Officer.
Claire turned to Victoria Federico, head of Access Legal Solicitors education law team, for help having attended a SEN seminar run by Victoria previously. Claire was aware of her rights, but felt she needed Victoria’s professional advice.
Victoria attempted to engage the local authority in negotiation, expressing concerns about the content of the draft EHCP. There was no response of any kind from the local authority nor any attempt at negotiation or mediation. Instead, despite expert evidence (some commissioned by the Local Education Authority (LEA) themselves) to the contrary, it insisted that ‘it would amount to unreasonable public expenditure to name The Unicorn’ and the parents were told that if they were unhappy, they should go to the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Tribunal.
The family then formally instructed Victoria to prepare the paperwork and guide them through the process of the appeal. Victoria argued that there would be substantial educational benefits to Oscar attending The Unicorn School. The cost differential was minimal, even over the course of Oscar’s education until he was 16 years old.
Thanks to Claire’s determination (especially at a time when the family had sold their house in order to build a new home and were living in a caravan on-site) and Victoria’s expertise and advice, the appeal was successful and Oscar gained a place at The Unicorn School.
Claire’s focus on doing what she knew was right for her son was important, but equally essential was obtaining expert advice, evidence and opinion to support the case. Some of that was in the form of legal advice, but Victoria maintains that getting advice and opinion from relevant experts is also crucial to the success of any SEND Tribunal appeal.
‘Even when the authorities are knowledgeable and sympathetic it can be difficult for parents to know what to ask for in an EHCP. In Oscar’s case, the LEA and school were needlessly obstructive and uncooperative. This should never have gone to appeal if the authorities had recalled that it is the child who is supposed to be at the heart of an EHCP. It should have been evident to them from the start that The Unicorn School would have been selected. To know that the family no longer have to face the worry caused by Oscar’s threats of self-harm and that he is now a happy little boy in an appropriate school environment is really rewarding.’
Pictured above: Oscar Gerring, smiling happily holding a merit certificate at his new school.
Pictured above: Oscar Gerring and his mum.