Welcome to the SENDay Times (“SDT”)! We’re so glad you popped by. In this piece we want to set out what we’re about, why we came about, what we’re trying to achieve, and why resources that others charge thousands of £pounds£ for are free (or occasionally nearly free).
Our life story
SDT was founded in 2021 by Seb and Sim – parents of children whom we now know are autistic. Of course at the time we were new parents, sleep-deprived and tired with no idea of their neuro-diversity. Our son used to be so happy and communicative. You can only imagine the joy when he started saying his first words! Small things though. As the months rolled on we began to notice traits we didn’t see in similar-aged cousins. He was super sensitive to the slightest pain. His sleeping was beyond terrible and no matter what we did, it didn’t improve even with age. And then his speech started to regress – he stopped saying the few words he’d learned and returned to non-verbal. He would aggressively “stim” for hours on end rolling his entire body from side to side or shaking his head. He started isolating himself and hiding when extended family visited – clearly overwhelmed by the social setting. When we popped out to the shopping centre he would cling to Mum, only calming when we had left and had returned to calmer waters.
Something was wrong.
That’s when we started reading. Mum, ever the voracious reader, read some fifty books – academic and lived-experienced, medical papers, medical journals, and hundreds of articles on the internet. She rapidly became something of a medical expert on neuro-diversity. She attended conferences and followed international experts (Hi – Dr Tony Attwood if you’re reading!).
While juggling three SEND children and all the associated stress, running volunteer groups for the Council, Mum completed a Master’s degree in Psychology obtaining a distinction. It was quite clear that our son had autism. He checked every box of the DSM-5 criteria and NICE guidelines.
So we embarked on a journey to institute special provisions and simultaneously obtain a diagnosis. And that’s where the travails began. The NHS experience was terrible. Enter Dad. Dad has a legal background and turned his attention to SEND law. He read literally hundreds of court cases and countless pages of legislation, making notes and building up a repository of case law that could be rapidly deployed when needed.
Mum and Dad became something of a dynamic duo. Mum the medical expert and Dad the legal expert. With our tag team we notched up a string of successes from getting diagnosed in quick time to having the school institute special needs provisions, to obtaining EHCPs, often when we’d been told be “experts” that we didn’t “have a hope in hell” – to quote one teacher.
But our journey and interaction with other parents revealed shocking stories of neglect, punishment – even cruel and degrading treatment being meted out to the most vulnerable children in society. We saw parents being stigmatised, punished and threatened by the very public authorities that were supposed to be helping.
When we compared our experience with the horror stories out there it was clear that there was a fundamental lack of knowledge on what SEND children’s rights were, and how to obtain them.
Few people understood that ultimately it is the law alone that would secure their rights in the face of refusal.
A full spectrum approach
Charities are doing an amazing job. We support all organisations involved in measures such as:
- training (it is desperately needed);
- public awareness campaigns;
- parent support groups (we attend these ourselves)
But like anything in life, unless you know your legal rights, and how to obtain them, then you’ll forever be hostage to the other people’s goodwill. When school and local authority budgets have been slashed down to the bare bone with multiple LAs already bankrupt or teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, then goodwill is in short supply.
Our journey revealed that many (most?) parents only have a vague idea of their SEND children’s rights; fewer still know how specifically to obtain them (whom to appeal to? what to say? what evidence to include?); and fewer still are prepared to challenge authorities often feeling overwhelmed.
It became crystal clear that there was a gaping hole.
While other charities do discuss legal aspects, their emphasis has been on support and training (both vital). The traditional view has been that you go to a solicitor if you want to engage the law. This is fine, only that an appeal to the First-tier Tribunal can easily cost c.£10,000 – something most parents simply cannot afford. Let’s put it another way. What if you don’t have £10,000 spare? Sit back helpless and watch your child suffer?
So it’s this niche that we’re catering for – the sharp end – the practical securing of your child’s SEN provisions.
When a school or authority says: no and we’ve reviewed it and still say no – then it is only the law that can change that.
So our contribution is to provide expert-written explainers grounded in the law that explain in a practical, step-by-step way how to obtain your child’s rights. We also provide free walk-in clinics.
Those with deep pockets and the ability to spend thousands – often in excess of £10,000 – pay a lawyer and the matter is appealed. Those who haven’t are resigned to seeing their vulnerable children suffer in pain and misery. This can’t be right. That’s why we try to empower parents such that those without deep pockets can go it alone and secure their child’s future.
So how do you fund yourself?
To keep this free we have four principal sources of funding.
- Corporate patrons;
- individual patrons;
- paid for bolt-on services (that supplement – but NEVER substitute our free resources); and
- appropriate advertisers.
Corporate patrons are SEND-friendly corporations who, as a part of corporate responsibility, want to give something back to society. Individual patrons are individuals or small business who want to provide a one-off or small monthly sum.
Bolt-on services are supplementary services that augment but NEVER substitute our free resources. For example, in our 200-page book we have explained precisely how to secure your child’s rights and how precisely to appeal where necessary with details on case law and directly liftable citations. This empowers parents of more humble financial means. So everyone has been leveled up. For those with deep pockets who prefer to pay someone to take away the workload, we can represent you in front of schools, the LAs and at appeals in the First-tier Tribunal or Upper Tribunal.
- Seb has authored the leading book in this field that has distilled the essence of some 300 court cases and pieces of legislation into digestible pieces that can be directly deployed. This has become the go-to resource for thousands of parents.
- We obtained an EHCP despite school refusal to refer the child for a needs assessment without having to appeal.
- We have successfully overturned LA refusals to conduct an EHC needs assessment at appeal to the First-tier tribunal.
- Through representation, we have persuaded schools to provide SEN provision they had previously been refusing.
We hope this piece has set out our raison d’être, philosophy and the gap that we are filling. Please support our work by becoming a Patron. SDT.