Over the past 2 months I’ve had 16 SEN tribunals booked in and 5 go ahead; 3 be moved to a later date and 5 LAs concede before the date. The final 3 were a lovely example of what happens when 2-3 SLTs meet and are given authority by parents / LA to negotiate.

I don’t fear SEN Tribunals, actually for me it’s pretty much the opposite as I have an acute attention to detail with Legal Bundles and I’m happy to guide a panel through the conflicting and corroborating evidence when I’m given the opportunity to speak.

I do however prefer to use my time, especially considering that lockdown virtual tribunals are much more tiring, to provide assessments and therapy.

This brings me back to the 3 meetings! Prior to each meeting both my recommendations and the NHS SLT’s recommendations were poles apart and as such I pre-warned the other party that any meeting would have to require a lot of negotiation for it to be worth parents paying for me to attend. “If you want to persuade me that this child requires zero direct intervention then we’ll have to let the SEN Tribunal decide. Oh and I rarely lose.” I, tongue-very-much-in-cheek, explained before each meeting.

At each meeting I:

  • Introduced myself and asked my NHS colleagues to go first and I listened intently.
  • When it was my turn to talk I first listed all the common ground we clearly had.
  • Next, I asked them to quantify every single hour or direct and indirect intervention they were advising.
  • We then had a number to compare against my specified and quantified report.
  • Each had agreed a SLT programme; modelling small group intervention; a level of training for LSA/TAs; an annual reassessment and report for the annual review.
  • What we found was that for each of the 3 cases, and in each of the 3 separate meetings, the difference in annual total SLT hours that I had recommended versus what the NHS SLT recommended did not differ that much.
  • The key difference was how these hours were to be delivered.
  • In each case I explained the rationale to my direct therapy approach and my experience in how it can be successful. I gave specific examples of what each session includes and the impact.
  • I asked each SLT how they would model therapy; how they planned to train the LSA/TA; how they conducted a review and what their assessment looked like.
  • Again, common ground was found. At each contact point the NHS SLT planned to deliver direct intervention to deliver each of the above. The key difference was the words being used to label what was happening not the actual activity ie to review a programme you need to 1) observe how the LSA/TA is doing a bunch of activities and; 2) meticulously demonstrate through direct therapy how to step up and down new activities to meet the targets and then 3) observe the LSA/TA deliver what you’ve just shown them.
  • Finally I suggested a wording encompassed the number of agreed hours, with a few extra each time squeezed in for good measure, and we shook virtual hands with an agreement that the child would receive xxx hours per year “to be used flexibly” and that each and every visit to school would include direct speech and language therapy.

Now obviously this strategy isn’t appropriate unless there’s broad agreement re communication and interaction special educational needs in section b / part 2 nor where a change of placement is being sought, but where it is appropriate it can be a great way of SLTs to work collaboratively for a common goal.