I am the father of a fourteen-year old boy who has special educational needs.  These go back to a brain tumour diagnosed when he was two years old, which has left him wheelchair-bound and, more importantly, with significant learning difficulties.

When his educational needs first became apparent ten years ago, East Sussex County Council could not do enough to help.  His needs were assessed and a statement of them drawn up, and we found a school in Kent whose primary department was very supportive and well-equipped to meet them.  But after he moved up to secondary in September 2000, we began to realise that his learning difficulties were no longer being addressed.  We attempted to solve this through the school, but eventually in January 2002 his headmaster confessed that his school could no longer provide for him, and wrote to ESCC suggesting a new assessment, with which we concurred.

We started looking at other schools, and by March 2002 had found an excellent one in East Sussex, run by a charity.  However to everyone's surprise, ESCC withdrew their initial agreement to the new assessment,  as a result of which we had to appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST).  Once we had lodged the appeal, ESCC caved in and agreed to the new assessment.  We were now in July 2002, but it was not until February 2003 that ESCC finalised his new assessment - which in the face of all the evidence declared that his existing school was fine.

So we have now appealed again, but will have to wait until July this year before the appeal is heard; if we succeed our son will finally be able to go to his new school in the autumn - more than eighteen months after his headmaster agreed he could no longer provide for him properly, and three years after his entry into what we now know was an unsuitable secondary department.

The process of appealing is time-consuming, expensive (one needs special psychological reports and expert witnesses) and stressful, and it was only after taking several days off work last year and again this year that I was able to complete our statement of case.  Luckily I am self employed and once upon a time had some basic legal training; otherwise I cannot imagine how I could ever have managed it, although the new school has been very helpful.

One reason the new school could be so helpful was because - get this - they had had to assign a member of staff specifically to helping parents with appeals.  Something was obviously wrong.  To see if it was peculiar to East Sussex or a general problem, I got hold of the SENDIST Annual Reports.  Click here to see what I discovered