Sheffield schools ‘struggling to cope with pupils who have special needs and disabilities’

Some Sheffield schools are unprepared for dealing with children who have special needs, says a councillor.

Monday, 14th March 2022, 1:48 pm

Coun Anne Murphy, who is a respite foster carer, spoke out after director of education Andrew Jones said he was “truly sorry” that parents of disabled children have been let down by the council.

Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission recently revisited Sheffield Council after a previous inspection found significant weaknesses in its special educational needs and disabilities provision.

The latest inspection report hasn’t yet been published but Mr Jones admitted the council still hadn’t made enough progress with the way children transition through services.

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Coun Anne Murphy says parents of SEND children in Sheffield have faced a lot of challenges over recent years getting the right education for them

Schools don’t understand the challenges’

Coun Murphy said: “It’s really good to hear Andrew apologise but I didn’t hear a lot about the involvement of carers and parents.

“Schools in particular really don’t understand some of the challenges the young people present to them, they’re not prepared for it.

“Even if funding is in place for extra support in schools, it seems to be quite a challenge for a lot of the schools to actually manage it.

“With Education, Health and Care Plans, there should have been a lot of work done a lot earlier than now to actually get those in place.

“They are really important plans that follow children throughout their lives. As respite carers, we rely on those plans to ensure we’re doing the right kind of care with those young people.

“If they turn up without one it’s incredibly difficult to know how to work with and look after those young people. They should come with them from day one through to being young adults.”

Coun Murphy told a scrutiny meeting that for a long time parents and carers had struggled with education.

“Some of the most simple interventions were needed along the way, to help support the families and to help the children remain in education.

“At one time in Sheffield, there was a pushback to parents about getting as many children with SEND into normal schools in the area. That became very challenging for a lot of parents.”

New special schools already oversubscribed

Mr Jones said two new special schools, opening in September 2022 and September 2023, are already both full and the city still does not have sufficient capacity.

“We probably have too few children with EHCP in mainstream schools. They require a specialist place but special schools are maxed out and we have children going out of city for their specialist placement.

“Both the specialist provision, along with all the transportation that’s required, is even more expensive than in-city provision so our resources tend to be skewed and we need to break that vicious cycle.

“We need a continuing conversation with mainstream schools as part of that.”

In the last few years 214 additional special school places have been created with a further 116 in the pipeline with the two new schools. But around 300 additional places are likely to be needed on top of this over the next five years.