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

When did you get involved with IPSEA?

I got involved with IPSEA in 1996 when I was working with David Ruebain on disability issues. Disability was my interest, and David was interested in education – put them together, and you get special educational needs (SEN). David introduced me to John Wright (IPSEA’s first CEO) who was doing amazing work advising families of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

What was your role?

David would often assist John with IPSEA’s cases, and I would assist David. This turned into an honorary legal adviser role. If there was an issue with a complex case, IPSEA volunteers would escalate these and the query would then come to me. I would offer guidance on legal issues and the most effective way to support the families involved. In 2004, I was involved in a landmark case with IPSEA on mainstream inclusion, MH v Sendist and Hounslow Council, which went to the High Court and established a precedent.

Today, I am still involved with IPSEA – partnering with them and Matrix Chambers to deliver the annual SEN law conference providing legal and policy updates to SEN professionals.

What was the SEND system like at the time, and what were the challenges?

Since I began working in this field, the SEND system has undergone significant changes. When I started working with IPSEA, the 1996 Education Act had just come into effect, consolidating the previous Education Acts there had been. In 2001, the SEND Act put disability on the agenda.

In my experience working in this field, families have always faced various challenges with the system. However, the current situation is the worst I have ever encountered. When I first began in this space, appeals typically took around three months. Now, there has been a significant increase in the number of appeals and postponements are common. It's ironic that the system was intended to improve after the 2014 reforms, yet with decreased funding, more people have turned to seeking the protection of an EHC plan.

Can you share your thoughts on the importance of IPSEA in the field of SEN law?

IPSEA’s role is vital in this context. Just look at the name changes IPSEA has gone through over the years – from Independent Panel for Special Education Advice to Independent Parental Special Education Advice to Independent Provider of Special Education Advice. This just shows how the organisation has evolved and grown to do the work that needs to be done to protect and uphold children and young people’s legal rights. I am concerned though that IPSEA does not have as much funding as it needs to carry out all of its vital work.  

The child and the young person are at the heart of everything we do. There are so many complex issues, such as funding and resources etc. – but the child is always at the heart. 

I am proud to be part of IPSEA’s history, and to continue to work alongside them. It’s like a family – once you're in, you never leave!