"The hope you give parents is nothing short of a miracle"
[a previous client]
[a previous client]
WHAT PARENTS SAY
Rather than us telling you what parents we have helped say, here are some things that parents have written themselves that may help other parents:
(or you can read shorter Testimonials about us here from the many previous clients we have helped).
"Our son was diagnosed with autism..."
"Our son was diagnosed with autism when he was 4 years old.
At the time, our son was in nursery and whilst we tried to make applications to private pre-schools, we were advised that he would have problems integrating with his peers, without additional teaching support provided through an EHC plan.
Having approached the Local Authority (LA), we were advised that our son would be ‘fine’ in a mainstream school environment without the EHC plan, as they would still be able to offer the support that they ‘believed’ our son required. Knowing how under-funded and under-resourced these schools are, we understood that their support would equate to less than 20 hours of shared teaching support per week. This would place the safety and well-being of our child and others at risk.
We would like to suggest to any parents going through a similar process, to not be persuaded that your child will be ‘fine’ with the basic support provided in schools. Ensure that you investigate this fully before any agreement is made.
We are so glad that we trusted our instincts on this matter and looked to seek further advice from Douglas Silas Solicitors. Douglas and his team took us through the EHC assessment process and we worked methodically through each stage to ensure that no stone was left unturned. They prepared us mentally for the challenge ahead and we were under no illusion that the journey would not be long and convoluted.
Whilst our initial application for EHC assessment was rejected by the LA, Douglas and his team were undeterred. In addition, whilst they did not imply that it would be easy, they led us with confidence through the application process. Fortunately, the LA reassessed our case before our application of appeal was processed, taking us to the next stage of the EHC assessment.
Whilst the LA were due to conduct their own assessment of our son, Douglas Silas recommended that we also approach independent experts to provide an objective viewpoint. Again, this advice was worth its weight in gold as it was formally established that our son would require 1:1 support in a mainstream school environment for 32 hours per week (including playtime, lunch breaks etc.) and that he should be held back one academic year to join Reception rather than beginning Year 1.
Douglas also recommended that we visit as many schools as possible so that we could make an informed decision on what placement was right for our son. We identified a particular school outside of the Borough (our home bordered two Boroughs). To pass any single criteria through the LA would be challenging enough; to pass all criteria seemed inconceivable.
It seemed like a daunting process to start battling with the LA and we were met with resistance nearly every step of the way. There were a lot of forms to complete, letters to send and e-mail correspondence which Douglas and his team assisted with to ensure that we presented ourselves appropriately; this was sometimes hard given how emotionally charged the process was.
Whilst there were several face-to-face meetings with representatives from the LA, our main recommendation would be not to complete any forms or commit to anything without passing this by the solicitor first. Whilst it may seem obvious, you can be led down a path of thinking that what you have commented on ‘in passing’ or when given a document to sign ‘there and then’ is fairly insignificant to the process. Everything counts.
Fortunately, Douglas and his team were on hand to help navigate around any potential problems and to provide calm, reassuring (but not unrealistic) advice. If Douglas was not available to speak, his assistant was able to offer very sound advice or relay any messages. Similarly, Douglas would take our calls in the evening when necessary.
Significantly, whilst we did not miss critical deadlines, Douglas Silas Solicitors taught us not to be intimidated by the deadlines imposed by the LA. Douglas encouraged us to go at our own pace and ensure that as parents, we acted in the best interests of our son rather than the authorities.
Often, the LA will leave you very little time to respond to their requests. To reassure other parents going through this process, it will not be the end of the world if you do not respond in their timeframe provided you let them know and keep Douglas updated for appropriate advice. It certainly takes nerve to stand your ground, but as we found out, your child will still be OK.
It is also important not to feel pressured into taking a school place for your child that does not seem appropriate simply because this is appears to be the only option presented to you. Many of the schools that we thought our son should go to were filling up and we were scared that we would miss out if we didn’t go with the LA recommendations.
Providing you have the EHC plan, you can always move your child to a more appropriate school that meets all or most of your criteria in the future but stay focused on achieving the EHC plan. For us, this was much more important than achieving an instant school placement.
Overall, the assessment process takes an awful lot of patience and a great deal of faith, especially when it can seem like nobody is doing anything about your case. Stay with it; in the end our son was offered a place in Reception, at the school of choice and with 1:1 support for the hours required.
It was not without a fight or compromise but, without a doubt, if you have Douglas and his team on your side you have a much greater chance of a win or settlement. Douglas Silas and his team are best placed to help you with this.
We cannot thank Douglas or recommend his services highly enough and we would like to wish any other parents that are about to embark on this process every peace and confidence that this will have best possible outcome."
[ A v Camden LA]
"Our daughter is 17 years old..."
"Our daughter is 17 years old. At the age of two she was diagnosed with a rare chromosomal disorder called Angelman’s Syndrome. With this condition she has profound physical and mental difficulties and suffers with epilepsy which is partially controlled by medication. She has severe learning difficulties and is incontinent at night.
Our daughter attended the local primary school up to the age of 11 with a Statement from our LEA. At the time of choosing her next school, we felt she would be better suited to a particular senior school to accommodate her special needs. The LEA were not prepared to accommodate any of our requests. We then had no alternative but to appeal to an Educational Tribunal. The purpose, as we understood it, was to discuss and implement what was best for our daughter. However we found that we were ill equipped for the Tribunal and we did not know our daughter’s rights and were forced into sending her to a school they recommended, against our better judgement.
We accepted this school and the new term started off well. There was good input from her teacher and extra support with OT, physio and speech and language therapies. Things were not to stay that way as there numerous changes in the staff and disruption to our daughter’s comfort and progress.
In her third year the extra support and therapy ended as we were told our daughter was not reaching her targets as a consequence she regressed. We tried to obtain a revised Statement from the LEA but were fobbed off and hence were unsuccessful.
We felt that it was time to take action. Our daughter’s behaviour at home was at an all time low and the pressure upon our family was unbearable. Our daughter was now 14 years old and needed the right residential school, so we decided to take the advice of a solicitor. Unfortunately, with hindsight we had gone to the wrong person and we wasted six months and a considerable sum of money for poor advice.
Fortunately, the one piece of good advice we received was to find an Educational Psychologist, which we did. They in turn suggested that we needed a solicitor who specialised in this difficult area of SEN. We were recommended to Douglas Silas.
From the minute I phoned Douglas Silas Solicitors I knew we had found the right people. Erica was my first point of contact and she was amazing. She asked numerous questions and fully understood what we were going through. She explained in detail what would be involved if Douglas were to take on our case and explained clearly the process. We knew we had found the right man and were ready to challenge the LEA.
We were very impressed by the efficiency and knowledge shown by Douglas and all of his team. Douglas led the meetings with clarity, asked all the right questions and always focused on what we needed to achieve. Throughout this difficult process he was caring, kind and never lost sight of our goals.
Our daughter needed a new Statement at Post 16 from September 2010 but we had to threaten the LEA with Judicial Review in the Spring of 2010 before finally getting a Statement which we could appeal against in July/August 2010; (it should have been issued by 15 February and even when it did come eventually in July it did not name a school and needed to be reissued!)
Even though we then won a 'type' of placement we ran out of time to give evidence about our preferred school on the day. As the LEA raised objections we had to go to yet another one day hearing in May 2011. The LEA also informed us during this time that they were going to try and appeal against the first decision which meant going back to Tribunal and updating our reports and visiting the school they wanted us to consider for our daughter.
The LEA did not make things easy but Douglas’s advice throughout gave us the confidence to continue the fight. We had numerous setbacks and were devastated but with our inner strength and support from Douglas and his team, we got through. During this time we were also in the process of looking at a suitable residential school as another Educational Psychologist (recommended by Douglas) felt the school we had in mind was inappropriate for our daughter.
Douglas was our rock during our second Tribunal. He stayed focused by getting into the heart of the issue and proved the key points to the Judge. 10 days later we heard we had won the case and, at last, our daughter was on her way to the right residential school for her!
Again, we got through these difficult few weeks with the help and expertise of Douglas and his team. Together with his calm approach, his genius letter writing amongst many other fine qualities, we won the appeal and now our daughter was definitely going to the school we had chosen.
We have been through a rollercoaster of events let alone emotions. We learned so much during this process and inevitably the experience has had a huge impact on our family life.
We knew where we stood throughout the whole process with Douglas Silas Solicitors. The whole team were prepared at every stage and were fighting with us. They empathised with us and they gave us courage of their convictions. If Douglas Silas Solicitors couldn’t win our case, no one was going to.
What a unique and brilliant firm we were lucky to find in Douglas Silas."
[M v Herts LA]
"It’s not so much a path you take..."
"It’s not so much a path you take when you enter into an Educational Tribunal with your child – it’s more of a rollercoaster ride through a jungle of educational policies, evidence, report terminology and ‘legalese’ that, at best, makes you feel like a stranger in a strange land and at worst, loses you completely.
For some it may prove to be an extended and intensified version of the same emotional, mental and even physical rollercoaster ride you have been on since first learning of your child’s difficulties.
By the time you reach the door of the room in which an Educational Tribunal is taking place and you step in, see the chairs, the table, the water and the tribunal panel sitting in front of you...well you will know for sure that you passed the welcome sign for ‘Complete Frustration’ a long, long time ago.
In the last 18 months we found ourselves staring hard at such a vista. Our child was about to enter Year 7. We had made a ‘parental choice’ – one we thought had been carefully born from a series of visits to see schools both in and out of the borough. In the end, we identified two excellent schools but both out of Borough. We duly put in our request for them and, perhaps not surprisingly, the Borough promoted its local, solution insisting that it could do it all – educationally speaking.
And so it was off to Tribunal.
But this time we decided to go prepared and so we sought specialist legal advice. Speaking to a lawyer was not something we wanted to do, but the need for one was made clear after our previous Tribunal experience. In short we had gone into that Tribunal believing – as we think other parents may do – that if we just put forward our case, which we thought was pretty strong and backed by evidence – that the Tribunal would find that our child should have additional therapy.
If you experience the Tribunal process – and we really hope you don’t – you’ll find there’s plenty of paperwork. It’s easy to be over-awed by the amount! But it isn’t the reams (sometimes suitcases) that will get you if you go it alone. It’s the ‘Caselaw’.
You may make the best case ever heard for your child and their needs, but it might as well go right to the rubbish bin when the legal representative for the Local Authority starts reciting previous educational court ruling cases like they’re ordering lunch. You’ll hear a country’s worth of counties and boroughs mentioned almost staccato-like as they cite the case law that has gone before, for the reasons why the Tribunal needs to completely ignore your challenge.
So the first time we ever tried we were fairly effectively lambs to the slaughter.
We realised that we not only needed a specialist lawyer but we needed to get our child independently assessed by experts. That was crucial. And we also had to steel ourselves because, frankly, going into Tribunal is an emotional, gut wrenching if not soul-stripping process. The nature of our child’s difficulties presented a number of transitional issues around the school and concerns about curriculum access, but no matter what your Tribunal, you find yourself talking about your child and their challenges and even your challenges to a room of strangers.
And that’s not easy at the best of times, let alone in a dispute.
The Tribunal does its best to be compassionate. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that you – as a parent - will hear lots about your child that can bring the full extent of the issues home in cold harsh ‘black and white’.
For us, in our Y7 choice, we ended up at Tribunal – and it lasted two days. Every child’s story is different and has different aspects and so I won’t dwell on those. The result - we won on the therapies but lost on school placement.
So we decided to send our child to the local school in the meantime because, much as we were tempted, it was never an option to home-school. But at the same time, we also appealed the decision. You can only appeal on points of law. You appeal to an Upper Tribunal – and it really requires a barrister plus your solicitor to represent you.
This time we won but only after a fraught few weeks. Normally it’s 28 days for an appeal deadline by either side. In our case the Local Authority tried to appeal our successful decision to the Court of Appeal saying it concerned an important point of law, but they tried two weeks beyond the deadline set for an appeal. The appeal, we’re pleased to say, was therefore rejected. So we had won. But what we won was just the right to start over again!
And so we did.
We asked all of our independent experts to revisit our child at the local school – just to doubly make sure we were doing the right thing and because now a good few months had passed. We then had a second two-day hearing and, at the end of it the barrister – yes this time not just a representative of solicitor from the Local Authority or their legal department – but a specialist education law barrister employed by them for the second Tribunal hearing – reeled off the ‘War & Peace’ version of Caselaw. We lost count of the number of cases that were referred to by the Local Authority. But – thanks to our solicitor this time - we had a few of our own, including the one we had now won in the Upper Tribunal! I still don’t know what they all were - it was a swirling whirl of cases!
And then it was over.
Throughout the Tribunal, of course, we had Douglas Silas representing us. Having Douglas and his team really did make a difference. Not just in his role as the legal eagle on disability and special educational needs (SEN) but also in their organising us and keeping us focused. As a parent you can get so wound up in the minutia of matters to the point where it can be detrimental to your case. Douglas Silas was able to cut through all of that and bring us back on track to the relevant key points. That was crucial. And they had to do it several times. Sorry.
We know – particularly having been through several Tribunals now – that parents don’t always win. And sometimes what is meant to be is meant to be. From the outset - win or lose - we were determined to try and do the best for our child that we could do. We knew we had identified what our child needed in terms of educational input. We had selected the right school by visiting around 12 schools in and out of Borough and then we made repeated visits to the key locations including the Borough’s proposed school.
When we lost the first Tribunal we sent our child to that local school, reluctant as we were – but realising that we had to be seen to at least give it a try. Then we went out of our way to ensure that we were not incorrect about the local option by asking independent experts to re-visit our child in the local school. And when we had satisfied ourselves that it was not the right thing we continued to pursue the Tribunal appeal.
But here’s the final thing.
A Tribunal has an impact – a cost. In our case it has been at the expense of considerable time, emotional and financial cost. And we realise, as we always have done, that the ‘cost’ is not just on ourselves. It’s on the staff of both the child’s existing school and the intended school. It’s on Borough officials. It’s also on all those who attend or give evidence at the Tribunal. We also clarified going in what the real financial costs were going to be to the Local Authority. Throughout this all we were conscious of that – or at least tried to be.
And there’s also the ‘cost’ on your emotions.
A Tribunal can be seen as a series of highs and lows in terms of beliefs and self-doubts. Some might say we were lucky. Nonsense. We believed we had a case. We sought a lawyer who both understood what we were going through and who believed in us. Moreover we believed in ourselves and we firmly believed that we were doing was the right educational option for our child.
We didn’t want to look back and say that we didn’t try on her behalf to provide an educational needs-led route to adulthood that would give our child as many ‘tools’ as possible to cope when there isn’t the training or support that is available to youngsters. Ultimately we believe that everything we can do now to try and ensure that our child is a valued member of society is of benefit. But through it all we kept reminding ourselves that we were seeking to do the right thing by our child. We have always believed that.
iThe legal route is not a cheap option but when you’ve tried communication, mediation and everything else, then, sadly, it’s the option you have to pursue.
The Tribunal route is a difficult and challenging journey, but it’s a journey that despite its particular length and twist and turns in our case, we ultimately are glad we have made."
[K v Hillingdon LA]
"Raising children is a demanding job..."
"Raising children is a demanding job.
It is a responsibility which remains the parents’ constant duty to do for their offspring. It is a labour of love and asks that the utmost be done for their off-spring. A parent should want to give their child the best chance they can get in life. Society creates given frameworks into which all our children are meant to be able to adapt, develop and advance. One of these givens is called school.
We have two children with special educational needs. We saw them experience challenges created by a school system which couldn’t nurture and support them. Outcasts, unwanted, unappreciated and undeveloped. The helplessness and pain which a parent experiences while being a bystander to their children's predicament defies description. The anger, frustration, unhappiness, and despair is a heavy load to bear.
It can also happen that support is either refused or inadequate. This means that the child is still left fully or partially disabled. This awesome allocating task is the responsibility of the LA. It is just at this moment that help, understanding, encouragement, and support is essential. It is exactly at this moment when parents need strength and Tarzan-like war cries.
We are told by the LA that parents can successfully win the battle without the help of a solicitor. Perhaps sometimes that is the case. But often it is not the case. It is crucial that the parents send a meaningful and targeted cover letter requesting an Assessment to the LA. It has to be a good presentation of documented and given facts pertaining to your child’s challenges and needs. One also has to be able to interpret the response of the LA. Sometimes they fulfill the child’s needs and sometimes they want to escape their obligation to the individual.
This is what is required when an individual needs to fight for someone versus a group being provided with a set of givens. It demands an unbelievable will-power to win whatever you can for your child. It demands diligent and dedicated efforts from the parents. It also requires the cleverness, understanding, realistic, honesty, and insightful support of someone who knows all the ins and outs of the legal implications surrounding the requirements of special recognition.
We would never have made it through the difficult challenges without the expertise work of Douglas Silas and his outstanding team. They have been magnificent for us. They pulled us through a rough assessment, tribunal, and almost an appeal to the Higher Courts for one of our two children who acquired a Statement through their hands.
They knew what had to be done at every twist and bend of this heart-rending story that dragged 1 ½ years to meet our son’s needs in a mainstream setting. They held our hand and told us what to do and what to expect throughout this difficult time. They even had to calculate the hours and financial support necessary from the LA in order to avoid being cheated by the LA.
The type of problems our children face is dyslexia and reading comprehension issues. Both are of severe nature. Our children suffered emotionally, socially and academically until an especially created support came into place for them in the form of a Statement. Once they were adequately supported their other problems began to subside. It required special attention and hard work from the schools. But they didn’t let those children down.
We are happy to say that they are adjusting very nicely within society, are being properly schooled and being given a chance to acquire the necessary skills to succeed in the broader community as independent individuals.
Douglas, we salute you! You are magnificent and we will always remember your devoted care and great efforts to take care of our children. This also applies to your dedicated staff who were also always available for us when we needed them.
We wish you further success for all the other precious children who justly deserve special support to also make them into competent human beings.
My last words are to parents:
- Never despair.
- Believe in yourselves and your children.
- Do what you can for your children and remember: Pray."
[K v Barnet LA]
"I clearly remember a call from the LA..."
"I clearly remember a call from the LA on a Wednesday in December 2011 informing me that it had been decided that our daughter would be going to the in Borough’s special needs school instead of our preferred choice of school.
I was given 24 hours to submit reasons for why she should not attend the school and so that these reasons could be presented to “The Panel” on Friday. In hindsight, it was the first indication that we had to be prepared to battle for what we wanted for our child.
Mid-February, the Statement of Educational Needs arrived in the post advising that our daughter's High school from September would be the Borough’s special needs school. We attended a meeting with the LA to see if we could explain to them why the LA school was totally inappropriate for our daughter.
Following this, we were left no choice but to appeal to the SEND Tribunal.
We got a hearing date in early July but this would not have been enough time to secure the services of a Speech and Language Therapist or an Occupational Therapist. We felt we needed to have these specialist reports to support our case.
On top of this, our preferred school could not assess M until September which meant we would be fighting for a school that could potentially refuse to take her. We had to request for the hearing date to be postponed. Fortunately this was granted and the hearing took place in November 2012. We decided that M would be educated at home until she could go to an appropriate school.
Our experience at the hearing was not good. We were shocked and unprepared for the tactics used by the LA and their Barrister. We had gone with an experienced advocate and not a solicitor, a purely cost-related decision.
There was not enough time at the first hearing and so another date was scheduled to continue. More of the same antics were experienced with the possibility of a further postponement.
We did not get the result we wanted.
There were so many discrepancies in the Decision that we decided to appeal to the Upper Tribunal. It was at this point our Advocate recommended we seek the services of Douglas Silas.
We met with him and his team in January 2013 and the above was presented to him. We discussed an awful lot in our first meeting and eventually Douglas suggested how best that he thought that we should proceed.
We pursued the Upper Tribunal appeal on a consultative service and re-lodged a further appeal to the SEND which he and his team dealt with.
The appeal to the Upper Tier tribunal was unsuccessful. The Tribunal highlighted that it dealt with errors in applying the facts and not legal or procedural errors. Reflecting on this now, it is easy to see this was a gamble and Douglas even asked us on many occasions if we wanted to pursue the appeal; however at the time, there was so much frustration and anger as we just wanted justice for what we thought was an unfair hearing.
In having Douglas and his team handle our second appeal we felt at a bit of a loss, having been so heavily involved with the first appeal. Further assessments and reports from a Speech and Language Therapist, Occupational Therapist and Educational Psychologist were arranged. We had regular updates and we really had very little to do, but to continue educating our daughter at home.
The second Tribunal hearing was in February 2015 and conducted much more professionally. The LA were better behaved but I think this was down to the amount of preparation Douglas and his team had put into our case. The second hearing was as we expected and hoped the first hearing to have been conducted.
We got the decision we had been looking for and our daughter has settled in so well into her new school. It was a turbulent time for the family, emotionally and financially draining.
Hindsight is a great thing to have, but we honestly wish we had engaged in the services of Douglas Silas Solicitors earlier."
[V v Harrow LA ]
"Our son has a severe speech and language disorder..."
"Our son has a severe speech and language disorder and he has also been diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum.
These disabilities compound each other and as a result, although he is 13 years old, he is only able to function at the pre-school level. He has had a Statement of Special Educational Needs since he was 4 years old.
Over a three year period we fought our Local Authority to get him the educational provision he needs: namely a waking day curriculum. Eventually, with the excellent services of Douglas Silas we succeeded and our son is now receiving a waking day curriculum at a wonderful non-maintained special needs school.
He is making excellent progress.
In the course of three years our son’s case took many strange turns (including the bizarre situation where a local councillor argued that it would be a waste of public money to send our son to a school that was less expensive than the one he was attending).
However, the core of the problem was the LEA’s unwillingness to accept the complexity and severity of our son’s needs. This was despite the explicit advice of the educational professionals who knew him best, supported by independent reports by speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and educational psychologists.
With Douglas Silas’ help we appealed to the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Tribunal against the school the LEA had named and almost the entire contents of sections 2 & 3 of our son’s Statement. Throughout this process the LEA raised every obstacle possible to thwart us and even appointed a leading Special Needs barrister from London to prepare and argue their case.
The bundle of papers that eventually went before SENDIST ran to over 1,300 pages. The hearing lasted all day and at the end we honestly felt that we had been given a fair hearing and that our team (expertly led by Douglas Silas) had done everything it possibly could to argue our case. In the event, SENDIST found overwhelmingly in our son’s favour.
Our experiences have highlighted the sorry state of the special educational needs system in England. There is an inherent conflict of interest when the body that is responsible for identifying a special need is also responsible for paying for its provision. The cost of special needs education is high and the temptation to deny the existence of a disability in order to save money is strong.
The irony in our son’s case is that because the LEA placed him in a school that could not meet his needs he deteriorated and they now have to pay more to undo this damage than if they had placed him in the right school in the first place. When the legal costs they incurred to fight our appeal are added, then the whole story is an appalling waste of public money.
We are indebted to all the professionals who wrote reports on our son and to our special witnesses at SENDIST. We are particularly indebted to Douglas Silas for all their hard work and excellent advice.
We would not have prevailed without their tremendous assistance."
[H v Hillingdon LA]
"Without the help we received ..."
"Without the help we received, our son, in our opinion, would have had no real future.
Our son is 11 and has high-functioning autism. Because of the help we received, he now has a future, which, as any parent is concerned, particularly a parent of a child with SEN, is everything.
Our son sped through all his milestones, often ahead of his peers and was extremely happy and easy. By the age of 19 months our son could sing ‘Moon River’ (pitch perfect) and count to 25. We thought he was gifted. Gradually however, at around 2.5/3, we started to compile a growing list of things that were at odds with his peers and pressed to have him assessed. The diagnosis came on July 6th 2000. He was assessed by the LA child developmental team as having high-functioning autism. We don’t suppose we shall ever forget that date. The shock, distress and grief of this revelation was unequalled and complete. In our minds he was going to grow up to be one sort of person. Then it changed. He isn’t that person – he’s a different person, but no less wonderful. But the pain about that will never quite go away because the loss of a dream is a very big loss indeed.
We quickly found a place for our son at a local mainstream state school with a high proportion of statemented children. The first hurdle was that despite the diagnosis and all the evidence, Southwark deemed it unnecessary to assess our son for a Statement of special educational needs. The only deduction to be made, for this conclusion, was because he was bright, happy, verbal and didn’t have any behavioural issues. The fact that he couldn’t access the vast majority of the curriculum didn’t seem to be important!
We immediately challenged this unrealistic decision and fought for him to be assessed by asking all the professionals involved to re-state their evidence. We won. It was also our introduction to the fact that the LEA will first refuse help and that we would only get the help that our son needed if we were prepared to put in the considerable time and energy into fighting our corner.
We wasted so much time waiting and hoping for something to improve. It didn’t and we ended up funding our own SaLT, our son having by then lost out on a couple of years worth of vital therapy. Over the years the hours on his statement were increased to 20. By the beginning of Year 4 we started to see the gap widening considerably between our son and his peers. We also started to wonder if it was good for his self esteem to be in an environment where he would always be trying to ‘be like everyone else’ and no doubt, all but ‘hanging on’. Our utmost desire for our son at school was that he should be in an environment where he’d feel happy and feel like he ‘belonged’, where the lessons would be directed at his level, not at the rest of the class, with him always having to have his work differentiated.
Throughout Year 4 and 5 we looked at mainstream, state and independent schools, autism units attached to schools, LA specialist and independent specialist schools. We knew we would need to find a solicitor as we were in no doubt that we weren’t in for an easy ride with the LA. The deadline for the LEA to send out the final Statement with their choice of school placement was 15th February. There is nothing you can do in terms of an appeal until you have the final Statement. They waited until the very last day possible to send it out, although, they undoubtedly had already made their decision of where our son should go back in October!
On receiving it on February 14th, we then went ahead and made an appointment with Douglas Silas. Thankfully, by whatever means, we came to the right person!
That first meeting was at their office where we talked in great detail about our son. We took along copies of all of our son’s paperwork including his statement. It was an extremely relaxed occasion (made so by them), considering we were waiting to hear whether or not they thought we might have a good case. Neither of us had ever really had any dealings with a solicitor, but we both felt that it was nothing like what we were expecting. In short, warm, welcoming, relaxing, clear, empathetic and ethical.
Douglas Silas felt, having read through our son’s reports and spoken with us that there was a good case to be made to the SENDIST for our son to go to our preferred school and not the school named by our LA. We felt very confident that they would not take up our case and proceed with it, if they didn’t truly believe in it.
They explained that we needed to provide expert assessment reports and very carefully put us in contact with the educational psychologist, speech and language therapist and occupational therapist whose knowledge and expertise they felt best matched our son. Douglas Silas has a wide experience of working with many professionals in the field. They were also very clear and realistic about the costs involved.
The weeks ahead were quite frenetic with activity. Douglas Silas kept us totally informed at every step and asked for our input where needed.
We were represented by Douglas, the educational psychologist and the lead speech and language therapist from the school we were aiming for. Southwark Local Authority were represented by their solicitor and the headteacher of their named school (neither of whom had ever met our son). The panel was made up of 3 members. It was a highly charged and emotional day. We arrived at 9am and left at 3.30 (with a break for lunch). We felt that it had gone quite well, (given that our LEA had not assessed our son and had provided no new evidence), but were well aware that it is impossible to tell and in any case were terrified of feeling too positive.
The two week wait for the outcome seemed like the longest time in the world. Just as soon as he’d received notification of the result, Douglas called us. ”You’ve won!!”, were the glorious words. I think, only then did we realise what a strain we’d been under.
We were advised at the start of this process by our local Parent Partnership organisation that ‘the SENDIST don’t like it if you take along your own solicitor’. This statement keeps ringing in my ears as quite the most terrible piece of advice.
There is no way at all that we could have won this case without Douglas Silas representing us. As I said, without Douglas Silas’ help, we feel that our son wouldn’t be in the position he is now, which is somewhere where we feel that he has a very real and promising future. He has now been at the school for one term and is positively flourishing.
Douglas Silas is someone who we would unreservedly recommend to anyone needing legal help with a child with special needs."
[G v Southwark LA]
"Our lovely daughter was diagnosed with autism..."
"Our lovely daughter was diagnosed with autism in October 2014, aged 3.5. After unsuccessfully trying our daughter in a familiar mainstream school to her – it only lasted a term when it became painfully apparent that neither party could cope – we had to find an alternative setting for our daughter in a special independent school.
By then, our local authority had already rejected our request for an EHCP assessment for our daughter (due to them submitting incorrect paperwork), so a state special school was also not an option.
We contacted Douglas Silas Solicitors in the summer of 2015. At that stage, we were privately funding our daughter’s special school, at which she was much more settled, calmer and happier, but which was an unsustainable provision without the financial assistance of the LA.
We did not want to run the risk of upsetting our daughter by moving her out of her school. By then, we had (belatedly) just been granted our second request for an EHCP assessment, which was at an early stage in what became a drawn-out process.
Eventually, we got to a successful conclusion – namely that our daughter remains at her current school where we feel that she has the best chance to maximise her potential (whatever that may be), and that the educational provision is fully funded.
But, this outcome only came after many emotional conversations and meetings with our LA, detailed submissions from our daughter’s school and us on her significant level of needs (sensory, speech, safety etc) etc. Nor was it quick, with many LA decisions only taken at the absolute last minute, which then pushed other timeframes back.
We have learnt that, much like a typical building project, there are substantial risks of over-run, and that patience is required. Courtesy is vital too – we were lucky that our case officer at the LA was co-operative and very knowledgeable, but at an emotional time, it’s important to try and remain polite.
It’s vital to have a clear game-plan, and seek external advice where needed to navigate through the SEN legal morass – we contacted Douglas because of his outstanding references, his superbly informative website etc – but our LA also had a very knowledgeable Parent Partnership team. Be flexible to at least considering other options, especially those that your LA may suggest.
Ultimately, each case is different, but some basic principles do remain. The process can be confusing, emotionally-draining and slow...parents naturally want clarity and help immediately, but this is unlikely and persistence will be needed. There are people out there who can help and advise, and many others who have been through your situation.
We wish you the best of luck, and, can thoroughly recommend Douglas and his team for their timely and always well-informed guidance."
[S v Lambeth LA]
"It would be true to say that without the help of Douglas Silas..."
"It would be true to say that without the help of Douglas Silas we wouldn't be in the position we are now!
Our story started back in 2001, when the eldest of our two sons, who are both autistic, one severely, was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. This was the start of a six year fight with our local LEA to get our son a Statement of special educational needs. We requested a statutory assessment which lead to a Tribunal which we lost. We sought some advice and tried again but lost at the first hurdle although we did get a "Note in Lieu" which put our son at School Action Plus (of the SEN Code of Practice).
In the six years from 2001, some 14 educational psychologist reports were done on our son, coupled with a considerable amount of correspondence between ourselves, the LEA and other parties involved. The evidence in our son's favour was starting to build and in the end we felt was so overwhelming in his favour, that it couldn't be ignored anymore.
Our son was still in a mainstream primary school with 'audit funding', but at the end of Year 4, with just 2 years left before his next step up to senior school, the LEA stopped the funding, saying that our son didn't meet the criteria for a Statement and that they could meet his needs within the resources available within the school.
At the beginning of Year 5, with a new teacher in the school (who was, quite frankly, awful) our son was to struggle severely both from an educational, social and emotional perspective. He couldn't cope and in the end we were fighting just to get him to go to school. We felt that we were hitting our heads against a brick wall. It was a horrendous time for our family.
At the end of Year 5 and with just days left of the school year, my wife had an argument with the school and we took our son out of school. We immediately contacted the Educational Welfare Officer (before the school had chance to report us) and also arranged home tuition with a retired ex-headmaster twice a week, we would do the rest.
We then got Douglas Silas back on board and commenced proceedings to take the LEA to a 3rd tribunal, which took place in December 2006. In the meantime Douglas pulled a masterstroke and put us in contact with an independent educational psychologist who we arranged to meet and do an assessment on our son. Although this was to cost us almost £1000 it was to prove money well spent. Douglas helped put our case together but advised us to spend our money on having the psychologist at the hearing rather than having him there!
At the tribunal the LEA and their representatives were taken apart and suffice to say we won our case. The LEA were ordered to commence a statutory assessment (which allowed us some extra time to provide any further written submissions, which we naturally did). Finally, after six years of fighting, we finally managed to get our son a statement which resulted in a place in the special needs school where our other son goes. We got him back to school on 19th April 2007. To see them both go off to school together on the school bus is amazing. We never thought we'd see the day.
In summary, without the help of Douglas Silas we wouldn't be in the position we are now. He's been simply superb and we would recommend him to anyone that's been in our position. Although it cost us just over £4000 for this campaign since Sept 06, half of which we borrowed, it’s been worth every penny.
We would say to any parent, "never give up, keep fighting and keep all the evidence - you'll need it. And if you can afford the best, the best is a man called Douglas Silas".
Thank you Douglas - thanks for everything."
[E v North Somerset LA]
"Our son is a bright, intelligent, articulate and loving boy..."
"Our son is a bright, intelligent, articulate and loving boy.
When he was in Year 1 we saw his behaviour go downhill at school. He became disaffected, angry and upset. The teachers did not know how to manage him. We could not understand what was happening to our lovely son who, at home, was fun, fine and happy.
We realised that the learning experience for him at school was a trigger for his behaviour. We first noticed it when he was being taught numbers and words. He was painfully aware his ability was nowhere near to that of his peers. We knew he had the capacity to learn and was bright and articulate but he was not progressing at the same rate as his friends. It was becoming evident to us that learning was a difficulty rather than him being “naughty”.
While he was still in Year 2, we took him to a Clinical Psychologist (CP) to try to find out what was going on. The CP suggested he undergo various tests. These showed he had a ‘spikey profile’; some tests showed he was able beyond his years while others, that explored his reading writing and short term memory, showed he was way behind for his age. The tests were not able to show a clear diagnosis but indicated he had sensory processing issues and possibly ADHD. However, when we reviewed the same tests a year later, four diagnoses showed up: dyslexia, dyscalculia, sensory processing issues and to a lesser degree, ADHD.
The problem we had to address was that it was not just a single diagnosis but a cluster of four different things. He was starting Year 4 in September and it became very clear to us that in order to help him, we needed the right Statement offering the right support. The LA told us they had to have all the expert reports before amending a final Statement as without them, at this stage, they could only offer Occupational Therapy (OT) support and general teacher training on how to manage children with SEN. We knew this was not enough help for him. He definitely needed more, specialist, support.
Independently, we visited experts in the fields of Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Sensory Processing and ADHD. When we discussed possible options for him, all experts suggested [a special school] would be the right environment for our son. It was quickly becoming apparent that even with the support of a Statement, we were not going to receive the help our son needed in his current school. If he were to stay at his current, mainstream, state school, he would receive little or no individual help and certainly none of the expert specialist teaching help he really needed. We could take him out of class for several half days a week to give him private tuition with various specialists but this was not ideal logistically or financially and would further crush our son’s worsening sense of self esteem and isolation in comparison to his friends.
We knew we had to take control of what was not happening for him. Our plan was to get the LA to part fund the fees [of the special school]. Whatever they were prepared to spend on the existing mainstream school, once the statement had been approved, we wanted that to be redirected to what we now felt was the right school for our son.
We realised at this stage that we needed proper professional help to take us to the next stage in securing the appropriate education for our son. We had heard horribly depressing and emotionally stressful stories of parents arguing with their Local Education Authorities over months and even years.
Douglas Silas was recommended as the ‘real expert’ by our CP and another professional friend. We met them to discuss our concerns. They listened and advised us on the Statement, what steps to take in dealing with them, how the process works and the time schedule. Throughout our dealings with them, Douglas Silas Solicitors were clear about what they could or could not do; they set out clear guidelines; challenges we would face, scenarios and managed expectations. We felt safe, well prepared with what was about to face us and we had absolute confidence in them. They have integrity and are highly professional. It was a very emotional time for us and they struck a fine balance in advising us and taking control of dealing with what had to be addressed.
They took hold of the existing Statement and practically reissued it. They went through it in detail, annotated it, included direct quotes from each expert report and at the end we had a beautifully prepared, powerful, revised Statement. Douglas Silas also advised us how to deal with and handle the school. We needed the school on our side and although the LEA was likely to supply another Learning Mentor, we knew that was not the answer for [our son's] education.
As well as the help from Douglas Silas Solicitors I believe the key to the LA moving quickly to help [our son], was that we were prepared to negotiate. We knew the LEA had limited funds so it made their lives a lot easier that we were only asking for part funding. We didn’t mention to [our son's] school that we had instructed a solicitor but having Douglas Silas Solicitors work and advise behind the scenes meant we had the confidence and support to get a fair result. After considering our proposal for him, the LEA did agree to part fund the fees for [the special school]. Douglas Silas did say we could push them for more but we felt we got what we set out to achieve and our son was able to start at [the special school] in April 2013, just over 3 months after we first consulted Douglas Silas, which, for all of us, was just fantastic.
[Our son] loves his new school and he has settled in amazingly well and made lots of friends. The classes are small, he knows everyone’s names, he is taught in a multi-sensory, engaging, with trained SEN teachers. He’s being taught strategies to help him learn and retain that knowledge and is now incredibly positive about reading, writing and learning maths - the trigger signs for his original frustrations. In fact, he now says maths is his favourite subject! He has a spring in his step when he comes home, gets on with his homework and no longer sees himself as a ‘failure’ or a ‘loser’ – he sees himself as an achiever. He is a different child and it’s such a joy to see that now.
This process has taught us how important it is to listen to your gut feelings, to question and to take prompt action when required. You know your child and we knew things were not right at school for our son. We wasted far too much time, years in fact, listening to the school’s (wrong) assessment of our son and his suggested management. We should have talked to other parents with similar experiences much earlier in the process and taken expert advice to obtain diagnoses much sooner.
We also learned you have to find the best professional person to help. We were very fortunate that we found Douglas Silas who is a true expert in this field. His support, integrity and understanding - and that of his team - throughout this whole process has been a life-saver for us and ultimately for our son.
We cannot thank them enough."
[C v Learning Trust LA]