I am an experienced solicitor specialising in education law. I am based in Newcastle, however I advise clients throughout England and Wales.
I advise on all areas relating to education law with a particular focus on securing the provision of suitable education and/or services for children and young people with a wide range of special educational needs and/or disabilities. The legal framework in this area of law includes consideration of human rights law and health and social care law.
I have a particular interest in advising on cases involving children with Down's syndrome and Autistic Spectrum Disorder.
I represent families in Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal appeals in England (SEND) and Wales (SENTW) and in disability discrimination claims.
I have challenged decisions at the Upper Tier Tribunal and secured a number of high value independent school placements for children with special educational needs, including residential provision.
I regularly advise on a range of special educational needs matters such as:
- Applying for EHC assessments
- The contents of statements of special educational needs and EHC plans
- Securing suitable provision and school placements
- Transfers from statements to EHC plans
I am also experienced in advising on judicial review challenges and have successfully challenged local authorities on many issues surrounding education and school transport amongst other issues. I also advise on community care law and mental capacity law.
I assist with school admission and exclusion appeals and have dealt with judicial review claims in relation to both of these.
I conduct my own advocacy at tribunal hearings and independent appeal panel hearings.
I also advise a number of schools and colleges on their policies and procedures to ensure that they are not breaching their duties to their pupils.
I support a number of charities across the country assisting those with special needs and disabilities.
I'm a member of Irwin Mitchell's Parent Carer Forum - a safe online space to connect with fellow parent carers and discuss the issues that matter to you. Join the Parent Carer Forum on Facebook.
"I had a serious issue with a school’s admission problem, where I was convinced that policies and procedures had not been followed. Rachael Smurthwaite of Irwin Mitchell was able to separate out and pinpoint the main issues that the appeal panel needed to consider in what was quite a complex case with documentation and issues spanning over 2 years. I cannot thank her enough and would recommend her and the company, who have been extremely professional and helpful throughout what has been a very stressful time for my son and my family." - 5* Trustpilot review
"Rachel Smurthwaite is incredibly good at her job, she has set the bar high. Rachel is able to explain clearly how a process works enabling you to follow the process, she is also a very good listener and takes on board your views and opinions, making you feel valued..." - Client (read full 5* Trustpilot review)
"Expert advice and clear information given. Quick response on my problem. Staff very helpful and l received the outcome l wanted." – Dawn, client
"Rachael has been exceptionally understanding, professional and demonstrated her excellent skills by completing a fantastic application which created a yes to assess... Heartfelt thanks for listening to me and guiding me throughout!" - Sunjeeda Hanif (read full 5* Trustpilot review)
"We have been dealing with these solicitors now for over five years and have no complaints. The are efficient , attentive , friendly and client motivated . Highly recommend." – Client
"The person who dealt with our case was extremely thorough, helpful and attentive." – Client
What Inspired You To Get Into Law?
Prior to working in law I worked in the housing sector. I wanted to pursue a career which would give me satisfaction and one where I could make a real difference to people's lives instead of taking all the time. I chose education law because my clients and their children are some of the most vulnerable in our society and if I can help to make their lives better then I'm making a difference.
What Is The Most Rewarding Aspect Of Your Role?
The most rewarding aspect of my role is achieving the much needed support and/or provision needed by my clients. Realising I have made a difference is why I chose law as my career.
What Do You Like About Working At Irwin Mitchell?
I enjoy working at Irwin Mitchell because they want to make a difference to their clients. They also support their staff in continuing their learning, and allow for flexible working.
What Do You Do Away From The Office?
Away from the office I am a keen equestrian. I have two horses and engage in all manner of equestrian sports with them from dressage to one day eventing.
I also enjoy discovering the world with my husband. We have visited Asia, Africa and Europe.