Review: Special Needs and Legal Entitlement: The Essential Guide to Getting Out of the Maze

Diane Kay
Monday, April 27, 2015

By Melinda Nettleton and John Friel

Jessica Kingsley Publishers

ISBN: 978-1-84905-595-6

£14.99

352 pages

Instead of looking at things through rose-tinted spectacles, as I find extremely irritating, the authors do not beat around the bush in saying the process for implementing the reforms from the Children & Families Act 2014 was rushed, and the results are far from perfect. I welcome this, as a parent of a disabled son who turns 10 next month, and as an unwilling bystander in an illusive "pathfinder" authority.

This is an extremely useful book but although aimed at parents (and other interested parties), I feel "beginner" parents might find the book too heavy. It contains a lot of useful stuff from identifying SEN to appeal, but I think "new" parents would first need a basic understanding of what their children's rights are, to enable them to enter the maze in the first place, before getting down and dirty, elbowing their way out.

A detailed, section-by-section breakdown of what information an education, health and care (EHC) plan should contain is really useful, as is a section on social care assessments. There is a short section on 16- to 25-year-olds and, later in the book, brief details about the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and parents applying for deputyship.

However, 80 pages of the book contain two examples of expert reports obtained for tribunal. They are very comprehensive, but many parents do not have the luxury of obtaining costly independent reports, so I would have rather seen a model EHC plan. This might help all parents know what one should look like, helping parents know if an appeal to tribunal is necessary.

Another remedy, mentioned several times in the book, is judicial review. I know it is an option for some, but I feel this might be building parents' hopes up unrealistically. The reality is that legal aid is not always available and a judicial review is legally an option of last resort. This means that all other alternatives should be tried first. Local authorities have very deep pockets and are often experienced at dragging the process out, which can cause significant expense and frustration. If a judicial review is a realistic option, it would be useful for parents to be given practical information on how they can start the process - details of law firms who can help, costs, timescales and so on.

Overall, the book is informative, easy to read if you have knowledge of SEND already, but, for me, it lacked the oomph parents at the coal face need to be able to challenge unlawful practices.

It is refreshing to read a book that is not afraid to highlight the flaws, but as its apparent target audience might already know what is wrong with the system, it would have been great to see practical guidance such as model letters for parents to send when local authorities refuse to play nicely and according to the law.

Reviewed by Diane Kay, Educational Rights Alliance

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