Parental challenges to educational and legal definitions of their children's special educational needs : an examination of decision-making in the field of special educational needs
This study explores parents' perspectives on their children's special educational needs and relates those perspectives to legal and other professional discourses. The key concepts used to organise the enquiry are Special Educational Needs (SEN), the Duty of Care and parents' expectations. Ten case studies were undertaken and the findings compared with a number of set-piece, land-mark cases which were followed through the legal process, from the High Court, through the Court of Appeal and finally, on 27 July 2000, the unanimous judgement of seven law lords in the House of Lords. Comparison of the local case studies with the legal cases produced interesting implications for the future of special educational needs. Ten parents were interviewed at the local level, as well as the local authority officer responsible for statements of SEN, the LEA parent partnership officer, and an parent advocate employed by a charity. At the national level, interviews were carried out with the solicitor acting for the plaintiff and the Principal Educational Psychologist of the defendant Local Education Authority. The main conclusions are first, that parents' definitions of their children's special educational needs, despite much exhortation in the academic literature about parental involvement, are still undervalued by professionals. Further, some parents are less able than others to articulate those needs and further their children's interests, and will be reliant on professionals or interest groups to assist them. Second, those professionals owe them a legal duty of care and can be liable for negligence if they give inadequate or wrong advice. This is relevant to the current debates about the role of educational psychologists and the promotion of inclusion. The third conclusion is that the recent decisions in the House of Lords will have resource implications for LEA insurance as well as for the delivery of the education service, and finally the commitment to equality of opportunity and inclusive education means that all children with any kind of need, special or otherwise, statemented or not, must have access to an education which will help them reach their full potential.