‘Nobody is listening’ – Parents in Sheffield call for independent investigation into SEN in city
Parents at ‘breaking point’ in Sheffield are raising money to fund an independent investigation into the state of special educational needs provision in the city – saying their children are being let down.
Disability campaigners Sparkle Sheffield say children, young people and adults with special educational needs in Sheffield are not getting the provision they are entitled to.
A joint Ofsted and CQC inspection in November last year found ‘serious failings’ in the way Sheffield Council educated those with SEN, including inconsistencies in identifying needs and weaknesses in commissioning services.
The council’s response - an action plan published last month - was given a cautious welcome by the Sheffield Parent Carer Forum, who also said the ‘devil would be in the detail’.
Sparkle Sheffield now want to go further, however, by funding a full study themselves, arguing it is the only way to fully understand the scale of the problem.
Tricia Stewart, a volunteer at Sparkle Sheffield, said the idea for the investigation came from parents themselves, many of whom are at ‘breaking point’.
She said: “Parents came to us asking whether or not this could be done but if people feel they are not getting the right provision we need to do something about that.
“We protested about this in 2017 and the council said things would improve within 18 months which is the same thing they are saying now.
“The council have promised and promised and promised and things are not improving. Nobody is listening to the voices of the parents.”
Tricia said the investigation would look at SEN provision across the board in the city, rather than just focusing on the council, and even Sparkle themselves would be audited.
“Sheffield Council are obviously a very big part of it but everybody would be under scrutiny, including us,” said Tricia.
“We would prefer to know that we are doing the right things because something needs to be done, it is not fair.”
The #justatenner campaign aims to raise £45,000 to fund a fully independent investigation into special education needs provision in Sheffield.
Abtisam Mohamed, the council’s recently-appointed cabinet member for education and skills, said SEN services are a priority and that she is prepared to meet with parents, carers and relevant organisations.
The action plan was reviewed and approved by Ofsted and the CQC, she said, and is being monitored by Sheffield’s Inclusion Board together with the Government and NHS England.
“Over the next 18 months we will be working tirelessly to ensure improvements are made. At the end of this period, a further inspection will take place,” said Coun Mohamed.
“Getting SEND services right is a priority of mine, and I will ensure that we will do all that is possible to make the required improvements for Sheffield. I am willing to meet with parents, carers or stakeholder organisations as it's vital we listen to people that are affected to ensure we get this right."
A video on a ‘crowdfunding’ page set up by Sparkle Sheffield alleges some disabled children, young people and adults are becoming so unhappy in their learning environment that they come home upset and distraught.
Others are not even in school or college, having been excluded, or are being homeschooled by a parent or carer who has had to give up work to look after them.
The ‘robust and unbiased’ investigation would leave ‘no stone unturned’, they say, and could be funded if just 4,500 people donated £10 each.
Visit www.crowdfunder.co.uk/justatenner to find out more.
‘We shouldn’t have to fight for this’
Sparkle Sheffield say examples of the problems the failing system has caused are easy to find.
Belinda Husselbe’s son Kenzie has ADHD, autism and OCD but until recently was only receiving a tiny amount of the schooling he was entitled to.
She and her husband Darren had to fund alternative provision themselves so the 13-year-old had something to do with his days and wasn’t a ‘prisoner in his own home’.
“We shouldn’t have to fight for this provision,” she says.
“My child was entitled to education. We played them a recording of Kenzie where he was begging to be given more hours in school.
“We got the impression they thought why should we listen to a child but they need to listen to the children’s voices.”
Belinda says her ‘bright and intelligent’ son is doing ‘fantastically’ now but only with the help Sparkle.
“If it wasn’t for Sparkle we would still be arguing with that school now,” she said.
“We have got Kenzie what he needs now but we will keep on fighting for as long as it takes for all the other children.”