Sheffield special needs pupils hit by budget cuts and staff shortages

Budget cuts and a nationwide shortage of specialist staff have left Sheffield schools struggling to help pupils with special needs.

Friday, 13th December 2019, 2:34 pm

Councillors say Sheffield had a £4m gap in its funding for SEND children last year.

And health chiefs say there is a shortage of specialist staff across the country. When Sheffield advertised for an educational psychologist, it received just one application.

Coun Colin Ross told the children’s scrutiny board: “There is frustration about delivering services. Education and Health Care plans are an example where we are producing good quality reports but the key is the ability to deliver what’s in the reports.

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“We can have the best plan in the world but if there’s no resources to back them up we would still be failing our young people.

“There is a horrifically long waiting time of 18 months for specialist services. It’s fine to have nice shiny new models but can we deliver what’s in the action plan?”

Coun Jackie Drayton, cabinet member for children and families, said the government had slashed funding.

“Last year when we got our SEND funding the Government said we needed £72m to deliver the services for the number of young people we have.

“We actually got £68m. That’s £4m less than they said we needed. That’s the context of our budget last year, it was less than we needed to deliver services.

“Schools have had budget cuts over the last eight years. Some of the first people who went were classroom assistants who were also very qualified around SEND and who would support children.

“This is not to blame schools because they need teachers so what do you do? It’s very difficult.”

Sapphire Johnson of Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group said there were challenges in recruiting staff, particularly in mental health services.

“There has been a huge increase in demand and training has not kept pace. We are trying to recruit from the same pool of staff.

“We are looking at putting health staff in schools to help provide support in a classroom environment rather than expecting existing staff to pick up some responsibility.

“We are also looking to how we can do things differently. That may mean changing some roles, developing some new supporting roles to free up specialists and at a regional level developing some form of training and growing our own staff and creating a new workforce.”