As part of IPSEA's 40th anniversary, we have collected stories from people who have had personal experiences with IPSEA. 

These stories not only provide valuable insights into the diverse challenges families encounter while navigating the SEND system, but also offer a glimpse into the remarkable individuals who have played a pivotal role in shaping our organisation.

Discover more people of IPSEA

My involvement with IPSEA and education law more broadly stems from my own experience of the education system. I was born with arthrogryposis, a congenital neuro-muscular impairment manifesting restrictions in the joints. As was the practice in the 1960s, my disability meant that I was automatically sent to special school for the majority of my primary and secondary education. The education was generally awful, with a focus on medical and therapeutic support rather than educational advancement, and there were little expectations of the pupils. 

I left a special boarding school at the age of 16 with two O levels. I repeated my O levels at a local mainstream comprehensive school, followed by A levels and then I went to university to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics. Subsequently, I became a solicitor specialising in disability rights. 

My role with IPSEA

I became involved with IPSEA in around 1995 as a lawyer and disability activist, running a specialist education law practice at Levenes Solicitors. Although IPSEA was not at the heart of the disability movement - it was an organisation that principally supported parents whereas the disability movement was focused on self-advocacy of and by disabled people - it was nonetheless seen by many as a key organisation in education rights. 

Initially I was one of a number of lawyers on IPSEA’s list to signpost parents to, and around 2000 my relationship with IPSEA was further formalised when I became its honorary legal adviser, a position I held until 2008 when I left private practice. I would train volunteers on the law and answer complex legal questions, and IPSEA would refer cases to me that had the potential to advance the rights of disabled children. I also co-authored a book with IPSEA’s first Chief Executive, John Wright. Taking Action was intended to be a toolkit for parents. Taking a case to tribunal was and is onerous and the idea was to provide information as widely and in as useful a format as possible to enable parents to navigate the process. 

The landscape changed considerably over the period that I worked with IPSEA with the implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, Education Act 1996 and Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001. Then, as now, the implementation of the legal framework was patchy, but SEN law was the one area where local authorities couldn’t legally fail to meet their obligations because of a lack of resources – they had to fund special educational provision. 

IPSEA's significance in the field of SEN law

A lot of my practice as a solicitor involved strategic litigation and this aligned strongly with IPSEA’s goals. My relationship with IPSEA was instrumental in identifying some of the important test cases of the time in special educational needs law. 

The organisation’s focus was on the structural ways that families and disabled children could be disadvantaged and it sought to redress the balance. IPSEA had a very particular place in the SEN landscape, providing advice and representation to parents through volunteers. When the SEN Tribunal was formed under the Education Act 1993, it immediately created an adversarial system which increased the need for support and representation. This was a moment in time when IPSEA became critical for families. 

In the years that I practiced education law, IPSEA was recognised as the foremost and pre-eminent voluntary organisation working in the area of special educational needs law. It was instrumental in strategically addressing the key issues in SEN law and in providing support for thousands of families.