Laxmi Patel, partner, Boyes Turner, Reading

I came to law later on in life. My first career was as a science technician. I had worked in secondary schools and then wondered, what else? I wanted to make a difference. Friends said I had an analytical and sensible approach to issues, that I was methodical and could argue my point. This directed me to study law as a mature student. ‘Education, education, education’ was instilled in me from a young age by my father – well before Tony Blair used it in his 1997 election campaign.

Laxmi Patel

I had been a school governor and was very aware of the issues facing staff and parents. I saw the help that children with special educational needs and disability (SEND) received in school. This got me reading more into the subject, particularly autism. Having a background in education made SEND law a natural choice.

Helping parents in the most practical way is not always possible because it’s hard to predict how the respondent local authority will act. The SEND law offers limited options to parents who need to challenge decisions but who have little resources, time or energy. It can be difficult trying to find a way forward in these circumstances.

It’s a highlight when a child is getting the support they need. It’s particularly special to succeed in a SEND tribunal appeal for a young adult needing a residential college placement who would otherwise have had to go into a care home. And it’s wonderful to hear from families with updates on how well their child is progressing in their new placement.  

I received excellent training from the National Autistic Society, where I volunteered as an adviser. This was my first exposure to the types of pre-appeal issues faced by parents wanting to get the right support for their child’s education. The aim was to equip parents with the knowledge to challenge decisions. Knowing a little law and guidance can be very empowering for parents.

I would like to see more accountability. There is no point in setting out what must happen under the law but with no realistic recourse for parents when it doesn’t happen.

The new SEND system is great in that it now provides educational support for up to 25 years old, where previously it stopped at 19. The current law does not allow for challenges to the health and social care elements of the Education, Health and Care plan, the legally binding document that enshrines a child’s right to provision. Not to do so is a glaring omission. I hope that new SEND (First-tier Tribunal Recommendations Power) Regulations 2018 clears the way for some changes in this area.

We need a funding system at a national level. There should be a system where all three statutory bodies contribute funds for children and young people with the most complex needs. We cannot continue to have public bodies arguing about funding, when all agree that specialist provision is needed but they never followed through because the law cannot compel all bodies to contribute funds.