Mum’s battle for right to special education for daughter

A Ruskington mum has gathered nearly 1,000 signatures for a petition calling for a new independent body to decide on education, health and care plans for children with special needs.
Emma Andrews and daughter Lilly.Emma Andrews and daughter Lilly.
Emma Andrews and daughter Lilly.

Emma Andrews admits she and her husband, Karl, have fought to get their daughter, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Sensory Modulation Disorder, into a special school to serve her needs.

The couple have argued since their daughter Lilly was aged six, that mainstream education was inappropriate. She is now 12 and started year 8 at Ambergate School in Grantham in September after they refused to send her to a mainstream secondary school offered by the local authority last year, instead electing to keep Lilly at home.

After years of mediation with Lincolnshire County Council in which she said the specialist evidence she had gathered was discounted, Emma eventually took it to a court of tribunal in which the judge ruled in her favour, insisting that Lilly’s education, health and care plan needed to be amended and she had a right to a special school place, which should be provided by the education authority.

Emma had to quit her job as a healthcare support worker to concentrate on the five-year battle and sunk the family savings into legal fees, private assessments and specialists. Now she wants to make sure the hundreds of other parents around the country facing the same denials do not have to go through the same process, adding that many more give up because of the cost involved.

She said: “We had a lot of clinicians and private assessments, had the primary school on board, occupational therapists, speech and language and educational psychologists on side but the council said all Lilly’s needs could be met in the mainstream, despite having met her. We did transition meetings with the secondary school but they said could not deliver on the depth of need Lilly required.”

After the tribunal via video link, there was a 10-day wait before the judgement required major changes to Lilly’s EHC plan and provide a special school setting.

Emma claimed local authorities across the country are failing families like hers, with 96 per cent of tribunals finding in favour of the parents out of 11,000 registered appeals in relation to SEN in 2021-22. She said: “We want responsibility for assessing children and developing education, health and care (EHC) plans to be removed from local authorities and given to an independent body staffed by specialists.”

To this end, she has so far collected 983 signatures to get a response and debate in parliament. See: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/649893

Emma added: “Lilly is now doing fantastically and her needs are being met.

“These other children are worthy, need that equal right to education, and deserve it.”

Sheridan Dodsworth, head of SEND at Lincolnshire County Council, said: “There are currently around 7,300 children with active education health and care plans in Lincolnshire. Very few families appeal our decision and we always work to resolve any difference of opinion with those that do. As a result, last year our appeal rate was only one per cent, meaning it is very rare for these applications to go to tribunal.

“The government has recognised that there is increasing pressure on the SEND system caused by rising demand. And, earlier this year, published a national improvement plan to ensure children get the right support, in the right place, at the right time. In addition, over the last few years, the county council has invested £100m to improve Lincolnshire special schools, creating over 500 additional places.”