As students compete for university places – and many prepare to appeal their A-level grades – we spoke to Tanya Thomas, a consultant solicitor at Setfords, who specialises in education law, about her most recent case.
What made you specialise in university cases?
My background includes working in family law litigation, and I’ve also been a university union adviser, so this gives me a real insight into the practice area and the type of legal problems students face. I also have a good understanding of university procedures which, to the untrained eye, can appear completely incomprehensible. Most are poorly drafted and full of contradictions.
Having worked in an education law firm, I realised how difficult it was for students and their parents to access good quality independent advice in higher education. I wanted to offer students high-quality advice at a reasonable price, and being a consultant allows me to do this.
Can you give us some background on your most recent cases?
I’ve recently been successful in getting two nursing students from different universities back to study. Both were in their final year, and both had been permanently withdrawn. In both cases, the students had sought help from internal university advisors, and the first stage appeals had not succeeded because the students had received hopeless advice. I was able to identify defects in both cases and put them right.
What was challenging?
Having to explain how complex the cases were to my clients after they had been told by internal advisers that everything would be fine, and having to educate university staff on the definition of disability to ensure fair treatment for students with mental health difficulties. I deal with a lot of mental health issues, so I knew obtaining the right evidence would be critical to these cases.
What was the outcome of both cases?
Both were successful, and the students have or are about to return to qualify. It is challenging to win cases at this stage, as it is usually a review process. So, cases like these are very rewarding.
Do you have any advice for a student embarking on an appeal?
You must think carefully before putting your whole future in the hands of lay advisors who have no accountability. Unfortunately, not all appeals are successful as the longer the process has been ongoing, the harder it is to put it right.