For any school, receiving a disability discrimination claim can be stressful and inevitably will be very time consuming. Russell Holland has recently provided advice and representation in a number of cases and shares some practical thoughts.
First, don't panic. While legal documents are formal and can seem intimidating it's important to remember that ultimately a claim to the First Tier Tribunal is about resolving a dispute. While tactics and strategy are important in a claim, the First Tier Tribunal will be reviewing the facts. It is very often that a claim will come after months or even years of disagreements between parents and a school. While no one enjoys going to Tribunal, it is your chance as an educational professional to explain to an independent Judge why you did what you did. At Tribunal, it is not so much about winning an argument with the other side; it is more about showing a Judge that you have acted appropriately.
Second, gather the evidence. What evidence is necessary will depend on what claim is being made. But generally speaking it is helpful to prepare a chronology and identify any key documents. For example, any responses to previous complaints, any expert reports and any other documents which will demonstrate how you have applied your policies.
Third, focus on the key issues. Essentially a Judge will want to know who was involved with the child. How many times did they meet the child? How did they interact with the child on a day to day basis? What understanding did they have of the needs of that child? What reasonable adjustments were made? How were the policies applied? What alternatives were considered?
Fourth, carefully consider if the claim can be resolved without going to Tribunal. Judges expect parties to genuinely consider alternative ways of resolving a claim. The reality is that when you walk into a Tribunal the outcome cannot be predicted with absolute certainty. Some Tribunal Judges are more sympathetic to parents than others and can place a school under intense scrutiny. Even where a school feels (and has evidence) that it has acted appropriately, there is no guarantee a Judge will agree. This does not a mean a school should just concede a claim but the risk and resources involved in proceeding to Tribunal does mean all options should be very carefully considered.