Law firm deletes own apology for gloating tweets about SEN children after 'parent blaming' criticism

'Local authorities knew full well what they were doing when they hired Baker Small. There is no consideration of the child,' a legal expert has said 

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The Independent Online

A law firm has apologised after an employee sent gloating tweets about winning legal cases on special educational needs (SEN) children - but has appeared to blame parents in the process.

Baker Small, a law firm that defends council decisions about SEN statements (a formal document detailing a child's learning difficulties) sent a series of tweets ranging from apparent enjoyment of parents losing cases - "it does make me smile" - to images of a cat laughing.

The tweets, which have since been deleted, prompted an astonished response over the lack of professionalism, particularly since the parents referred to will have been challenging the school allocated to their child and are likely to have been unable to afford a lawyer.

The first tweet from the Milton Keynes-based firm read: "Crikey, had a great 'win' last week which sent some parents into a storm! It is always a great win when the other side thinks they won!"

Whoever was writing on behalf of Baker Small continued by questioning an "applied behavioural analysis" – which is used with some children who have autism – by saying: "Great ABA Trib win this week...interesting to see how parents continue to persist with it. Funny thing is parents think they won ;)".

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Baker Small is a Milton-Keynes based law firm which other solicitors have said is known for a "bad attitude" (Google Maps)

SEN statements, care plans and ABAs are all used by councils and local authorities to determine the severity of a child's needs and the school placement and support they should receive, and are therefore often anxiously awaited by parents.

When Twitter users suggested that "a little more gravitas" would be appropriate, co-founder Mark Small wrote a lengthy apology which also appeared to blame parents and the way the law works, which has also now been deleted.

Mr Small gave an example of the "very distasteful emails" received by the firm from parents, which included expletives such as "c***" and warned his family to be careful. 

After more critics on Twitter accused him of "parent blaming", this too was taken down today.

Melinda Nettleton, principle solicitor at SEN Legal, the largest special needs practice in the country, said councils were fully aware of Baker Small's long-standing reputation, which was in evidence "before any cuts to council services." 

She said that Baker Small appears to be concerned with "winning at all costs" with little consideration of the child, saying: "It's a bad attitude".

She added: “The idea that councils are innocent victims here, and champions of the disabled, is completely wrong. They know what these law firms are like”.

Other experts in SEN tribunals, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Independent that local authorites have a "conflict of interest" around EHC (Education, Health and Care) plans for young people, because they are required to fund those places and so are discouraged from making expensive recommendations.

These plans determine how a child's special needs are classified and where they should go to school. Furthermore, only about 59 per cent of these cases are seen within the time frame they should be, according to Department for Education statistics.  

One council, Cambridgeshire County Council, has told Twitter it has severed its contract with Baker Small following the comments and public outcry.

The number of SEN statements and plans has increased each year, with 256,315 across the country as of January 2016, according to the Department for Education.

Meanwhile, one-to-one support for an SEN child costs the council on average £20,000 a year, said experts.

The Independent has approached Baker Small for comment.

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