Following unsavoury comments made on social media by Baker Small law firm in regards to tribunal cases between local authorities and parents of children with SEND and in her capacity as Shadow Minister for Children and Families, Sharon has written to the Minister for Children and Families, Edward Timpson MP, to highlight her concerns and called for further investigation into this matter and for the Government to recommit to end the adversarial nature of the SEND support system.
Sharon has also written to Edina Rowland, the Chair of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, and all chief executives of local authorities with children's services regarding her concerns and those raised with her by parents of children with SEND.
An extract of Sharon’s letter to Edward Timpson reads:
“For a law firm, which has been contracted with public money to help mitigate disputes on behalf of a local authority, to gloat on social media about their victories is not helpful in ensuring a less adversarial atmosphere regarding SEND support for children; something that we both called for and welcomed during the passing of the Children and Families Act back in 2014 when the reforms to the system were legislated on.”
Sharon then went on to say in her letter:
“These actions clearly show a complete disregard and lack of respect for professional standards in the legal profession, which must be upheld to the highest standard to ensure that our legal profession is never brought into disrepute.”
Sharon asked the Minister for Children and Families to investigate this matter further along with his colleague, the Solicitor General, and ensure that children are put at the centre of the system and to recommit to ending the adversarial nature seen in the SEND support system.
In her letter to the Chair of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Sharon called on them to investigate this issue further and to take seriously any complaints received by parents who face adversarial actions by opposing counsel during tribunal hearings and to respect the culture change that Parliament called for during the passing of the Children and Families Act 2014.
Sharon also called on local authorities to evaluate their contracts with outside legal counsel to ensure they are not being vindictive towards families of children with SEND and to recommit to supporting children and young people with SEND.
This all comes as part of Sharon’s review into special educational needs and disabilities for children and young people. More information on the review can be found at this link.
UPDATE (12.08.16): You can read the Minister of State for Education's response to Sharon's letter here.