Sheffield parents stuck in an education system feeling helpless

The planned rally to protest about Sheffield City Council's handling of SEN provision and the lengthy delays in EHC plans was called off at the last minute this week.

Friday, 3rd March 2017, 8:00 am

The planned rally to protest about Sheffield City Council’s handling of SEN provision and the lengthy delays in EHC plans was called off at the last minute this week.

I’m told the reason wasn’t especially lack of interest – a newly established Facebook group is 150 strong – but rather the lack of a named organiser.

For a rally to take place, the police have to be given the name of an organiser, somebody who is willing to go on record as the person responsible for setting it up.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

It appears that nobody was willing to take on that role – and to be fair, who can blame them?

These are mums and dads who are stuck in a system feeling helpless, wanting to get the best for their children who desperately need help and support.

In such cases, the last thing many of them would want to do is put themselves in the firing line, drawing attention to themselves.

The lack of a protest outside the town hall this week does not, however, detract from the seriousness of the problem.

Sheffield parents are still annoyed and frustrated at the service provision for children with special educational needs in this city, still angered by the lack of promises to sort out the mess. And still waiting for a firm commitment from the council.

Teachers, support staff and pupils at Sheffield schools were back to work this week after a well-earned break.

For some parents, the week off provided a chance to develop their child’s learning.

This may have been through reading books at home, watching a TV series linked to a theme being covered or taking a trip to a museum.

One family I know jetted off to Rome for a city break, partly in search of warmer weather and partly to support a junior school history project.

‘Enrichment’ is a broad term, but it is a very significant one.

It encapsulates the range of experiences students get outside their academic setting and parents are integral in providing them.

Although a great number of parents are superb when it comes to providing enrichment opportunities, a lack of time, money and information is limiting the enrichment provided by many parents in this city.

And some parents simply have no excuse – they could do a lot more to enrich their child’s learning experience.

Because whatever the budget, there are things parents can be doing to enrich their child’s education. If the child is studying a specific topic in history or geography, there will be artefacts in free museums not too far away that complement the work. Whatever the English literature topic, there will be books and films available at Sheffield libraries to develop the experience.

Artistic studies will benefit from an art gallery trip, or simply an evening on the internet looking at other work produced by that artist.

Like most things in life, the best enrichment experiences often come down to how much money people have.

We’re living in a time when a trip to the theatre for a family to see a key text like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is going to cost the best part of £100 - for the cheapest seats in the house.

Those with enough cash have no shortage of enrichment opportunities such as this.

Those without enough money to buy a pair of school shoes need help desperately and are not likely to be buying tickets for the Lyceum any time soon, let alone plane tickets to Rome.

Those parents wrapped up in the current SEN crisis and stressed out waiting for an EHC plan may not have the time or motivation to plan a nice day out.

And this is where schools could do more.

Some are great at offering financial help with trips and pointing parents towards enrichment opportunities.

Some schools don’t do enough.

In most schools, pupil premium could be used more creatively to support families with limited cash.

Pupil Premium is money given to schools that must be ring-fenced to boost the learning of disadvantaged students.

Children with the poorest backgrounds allow the school to get this pupil premium payment.

It’s up the schools how to spend this money, but they must justify to OFSTED how it is being used to help those disadvantaged pupils.

Far too much pupil premium money is simply set aside to be spent on providing a teaching assistant that will benefit the class a whole and not just the disadvantaged.

More of it should be spent creatively, including experiences out of school that could boost confidence and enrichment.

That could mean piano lessons to support music, it could mean cash to see a play or it could mean a taxi to visit a local museum.

These out-of-school experiences are often very important to education and cannot be over-exaggerated.

Many Sheffield families would benefit from being pointed towards enrichment opportunities they may not know are there.

And plenty could do with a financial helping hand to access them.