I have previously written a blog about a culture of low expectation and my experiences as a parent with my son Terry (names have been changed) who is profoundly deaf. Within the blog I mentioned that I was fighting for my son to go to a specialist school. Well, the tribunal date has been and gone so I wanted let you know what happened.
Firstly the process took a long time. In our case it took 15 long stressed filled months. Our journey started at Terry’s annual review when we expressed our desire for him to attend a residential school with an oral approach. We were asked if we wanted it to be taken to panel (a group of people from the local authority who make decisions) who would decide if the LA would pay to send him there. When we stated that we did we had to wait until August when we received a letter to state that the LA had decided that it was an unsatisfactory use of public funds and that they had reservations about sending an eight year old to a residential school. Our appeal process formally started in December and it took a few months before we were given the date for the tribunal in June. In the meantime we were not simply waiting for the date but with support from the National Deaf Children’s Society gathering evidence to support our case.
To say I was anxious on the day of the tribunal was an understatement. Myself and my husband as well as representatives from the school I wished my son to attend were present, as were the Special Educational Needs officer, the manager for the Hearing Impairment outreach provision and the local Speech and Language Therapist who represented the Local Authority. The panel was made up of three people who had to decide the fate of my son. I made sure that I put a photograph of Terry on the desk in front of us as I didn’t want him to be a faceless name. The day was incredibly stressful. It required a lot of biting my tongue as I was made to feel that the needs of my son were not central to the case the Local Authority was making. My opinion is that they were more focused on their budget. This is an opinion shared by many other parents. In the end the Local Authority had to concede the case as they were unable to state exactly when they were able to provide Terry with a qualified Teacher of the Deaf. To say we were ecstatic was an understatement.
My husband and I hugged and kissed there and then, it was just an overwhelming sense of relief. Now reflecting upon the tribunal process I am angry. The impact that it had on us as a family was huge. I was so stressed and therefore at times snappy, of course this affected us all. I was not surprised to discover that during a Special Education Needs and Tribunal Survey conducted in 2013 by the forum Kids First that some parents give up because they cannot cope with the stress. I feel that the process actually encourages the school and the local authority to be dishonest.
There are numerous examples I can give where this has happened. One example is the week of the tribunal when producing a timetable the school changed Terry’s and inserted lots of 1:1 support sessions. This has never happened before.
I would like to say to other parents who are going to tribunal to make sure that they seek independent assessments as these are invaluable. Also go and seek advice from charities, there are lots out there who will support you and put you on the right path. Finally if you are able to accept that the process is not about your child as an individual but about costs then this would make it easier for you. This was something that I wasn’t able to do as the impact that this decision would have on my son is literally life changing for him.