Find out more about our achievements with our timeline highlighting significant events in our 40-year history.


1983: IPSEA is established by a charity called the Children’s Legal Centre. Known as IPSEE (Independent Panel of Special Education Experts), the organisation is made up of a small group of educational psychologists who provide free second professional opinions on the type and amount of support children with special educational needs require. At this time, children with special educational needs are typically educated in special schools, and educational psychologists play a crucial role in deciding whether a child should attend a mainstream or special school. Parents who want their children in mainstream education face significant difficulties in securing it. 

Shortly after IPSEE is formed, the Education Act 1981 comes into force and there is no longer as much need for our panel of experts. The Act shifts the emphasis to inclusion, introduces the system of Statements of Special Educational Needs and confers new Education Act 1981 logorights on parents, giving them a much greater say in how and where their children with special educational needs are supported. The focus shifts from educational psychologists' assessments to the consideration of resource efficiency when determining educational placements for children with special educational needs. 

1985-87: Our first CEO, John Wright, joins the organisation as a part-time administrator. With a background in education law, he recognises that what families really need is specialist next-step advice on special educational needs law. John grows IPSEE’s panel, recruiting speech and language therapists, special needs teachers and more educational psychologists to give free advice to families. The IPSEA we know today is born. 

The law in place to support children and young people with special educational needs is routinely broken by local authorities and is not effectively enforced. Unable to meet the growing demand for advice and support, we secure funding to recruit volunteer advice givers. The role of IPSEE’s paid staff becomes to train and support volunteers to staff our free telephone Advice Line, a crucial resource for families navigating the system. 

1988: IPSEE becomes IPSEA (Independent Panel for Special Education Advice) and is registered as a charity, independent of the Children’s Legal Centre. We also establish sister organisations in Scotland and Northern Ireland with funding from Children in Need and the Down’s Syndrome Association Northern Ireland respectively. 


Taking Action by John Wright, book coverThe 1990s sees a period of expansion for IPSEA. We start training other organisations on special educational needs law, including telephone advisers at the National Autistic Society and National Deaf Children’s Society. 

1993: The Education Act 1993 introduces an independent tribunal for resolving disputes, called the Special Educational Needs Tribunal. IPSEA establishes a free representation service (FRS) to assist parents with their cases, recruiting volunteers to represent parents at Tribunal. 

1996: Our CEO, John Wright, co-authors a guide to SEN law, entitled ‘Taking Action: Your Child’s Right to Special Education. The book aims to create a comprehensive manual for parents on SEN law. It sets out common problems along with the relevant law that applies and provides a set of template letters to resolve these issues. 


During this period, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 (SENDA) changes the name of the SEN Tribunal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Tribunal and extends the Tribunal’s jurisdiction so that it can hear cases of disability discrimination in schools. We commence a disability discrimination project to support families bringing disability discrimination claims to the Tribunal, and we also launch our first website, providing a platform for parents and professionals to access advice and information online. 

2006: Compliance with the law is still a huge problem and children with SEND continue to be let down. We give evidence to the Education and Skills Committee on the implementation of SENDA and our CEO, John Wright, explains the heart of the problem:

The difficulty arises, in our experience, not from problems with the legal framework or the assessment system or the statements; the problem arises from local authorities disregarding their duties in law.

2009: The Lamb Inquiry is established as part of the government’s response to the Education and Skills Committee report on special educational needs. Jane McConnell, who takes over as IPSEA’s CEO in 2008, is invited to join the Expert Advisors Group to provide expert advice to the inquiry.

We open a dedicated Tribunal Helpline to provide next-step advice to families appealing to the SEND Tribunal. The volunteers on our Tribunal Helpline also assess whether callers need the support of an IPSEA volunteer caseworker. 


2011: Following the Lamb Inquiry, the government publishes a green paper entitled ‘Support and Aspiration: A new approach to SEN and Disability’. The paper sets out recommendations and proposals for reform to the SEND system and is heavily influenced by IPSEA’s evidence. 

2012: The Government announces it will bring forward legislation to change the system for assessing and providing for special educational needs in its proposed Children and Families Bill. IPSEA scrutinises the Bill to ensure current legal safeguards for children with SEND are protected. 

2013: IPSEA produces a detailed analysis of the Children and Families Bill, highlighting areas of concern over the erosion of existing rights. We submit written evidence to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee. Our submission suggests amendments to ensure that the Bill maintains current protections, and we continue to voice our concerns and raise awareness during the passage of the Bill. 

2014: Following recommendations made by the House of Lords influenced by IPSEA’s concerns, MPs agree the amendments to the Children and Families Bill. The coming into force of the Children and Families Act on 1 September 2014 makes this an incredibly busy year for IPSEA and marks the end of a journey that we began back in 2009. IPSEA was involved in the development of the law at every step – we made 12 formal responses, produced ten briefings, appeared as an expert witness five times and ran an extensive survey to capture feedback from families. 

IPSEAs CEO accepting the Queens Award for Voluntary Service in 20152015: We win the Queen’s Voluntary Service Award, the highest award given to UK volunteer groups. We see a surge in demand for our services following the introduction of the Children and Families Act 2014. As demand grows, we develop SEND law training for parents and carers, school staff, parent carer forums, local authorities and other professionals working in the field of SEND in order to increase their knowledge and understanding of the SEND legal framework. 

2016: The 2014 SEND reforms do not work as intended, and children and young people with SEND continue to be denied the provision and support they are legally entitled to. We provide extensive support and advice to families whose children with statements are transitioning from the old law to the new law, and we also develop and deliver, in partnership with the Department for Education, training on the new legislation for local authority SEND decision-makers. 

2017: Under the leadership of IPSEA's newly appointed CEO, Ali Fiddy, we continue to grow the charity. This expansion includes the recruitment of additional staff to both the communications team and the training team, allowing us to enhance and broaden our training offering. Our helpline services also win the coveted ‘Best Helpline Sector Contributor’ award. The award recognises the significant contribution that our helplines have made to the wellbeing of service users and to the sector in general, and the judges comment specifically on IPSEA’s remarkable ability to meet the rise in demand for the service, whilst also using the intelligence received on our helplines to shape policy and influence the larger system. 

IPSEA staff team 2018

2018: We launch a new and much-improved website to enhance the vital support we provide to families of children and young people with SEND. The new site includes a comprehensive support area with free guides, resources and template letters on every aspect of SEND law.  

2019: We change our name to Independent Provider of Special Education Advice. We are still known as IPSEA, but changing the ‘P’ from 'Parental' to ‘Provider’ more accurately reflects our work. 


2020: IPSEA provides extensive advice and guidance on how the COVID-19 measures affect children and young people with special educational needs, and our analysis of the COVID legislation is heavily relied upon by both families and professionals – with our online guidance on COVID-19, school closures and SEN provision receiving 105,484 page views over the course of the year. Educational provision for children and young people with SEND is particularly adversely affected throughout the pandemic, so our work supporting and advising families is absolutely vital. 

Photo of the Education Committee session on the SEND review2022: The Government publishes the SEND Review in the form of a green paper consultation, setting out proposals for reform that risk watering down children and young people’s rights and entitlements to special educational provision. We call on the Government to abandon the proposals and instead introduce a robust set of consequences for local authorities that circumvent the law, giving evidence to the House of Commons Education Committee and producing a detailed consultation response setting out our concerns. We share our position widely and encourage parents, carers and young people to respond to the public consultation with their thoughts and experiences. 

2023: Following the conclusion of the SEND Review, the Department for Education publishes a SEND and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan setting out how the Government intends to proceed with proposals for reform. The absence of any specific plans to address the persistent non-compliance with the law by many local authorities means that nothing is likely to improve, and we criticise the government for failing to tackle the real problem with the SEND system.