To discover that some Sheffield mums felt compelled to stage a protest outside the city’s education offices last week did not come as a surprise. Instead, it filled me with disappointment that Sheffield’s system of writing EHC plans for children with special educational needs still seems to be desperately broken.
One Sheffield mum who has a child moving to secondary school in September was pleading for their EHC plan to be updated so that a place could be allocated at their preferred school, where she knew her child’s complex needs would be taken care of.
Without the finalised care plan that highlights the child’s needs and requirements, a specialised place cannot be allocated and so we have the dire situation when the family still do not know for certain which secondary school the child will be attending – just three weeks before the current academic year is due to wind up.
In February, I highlighted the plight of Sheffield mums and dads at their wits’ end because of long delays in the EHC writing process. Many people sympathised and empathised with the stress they had been put through and the frustration of a SEND service at breaking point.
For me, the most alarming thing about the people protesting this week, those contacting their MPs and others employing the services of educational advocates is that they are not all new to the system.
In many cases they are the same mums and dads who are still wanting their issues to be resolved. Six months down the line, they are the same people asking the same questions, wanting the same EHC plan written and the same comfort for their children.
They just want to know their child’s needs will be met in September and have confirmation of the school they will be attending.
Families who do not require a care plan have a much less stressful experience when it comes to choosing a secondary school. You’re asked to apply before Christmas and get notified by email in mid-April when the decision is made, with an appeals process in place for those not happy.
But children requiring a place in a special school, or perhaps in one of the city’s Integrated Resource Units, are not going to get their desired place confirmed until the EHC plan is written and confirms such a place is needed. Until then, they may get allocated a mainstream school place which may not be able to fully meet their needs.
I cannot even begin to imagine the stress within the family when you know your child needs specialist provision but without the finished EHC plan you know they will have to start at the local secondary school, which may be wholly inappropriate.
I know parents still struggling to get their EHC report completed even at this late stage, desperately hoping it can all be sorted out before September because they know their child will not cope in mainstream school.
The sorry truth is that the children who are affected by this unprofessional delay (let’s not forget that the reports should be written within 20 weeks and many of these parents have been waiting much longer) are children who should be an absolute priority.
It means they miss out on vital transition sessions put in place by the schools in June and July, events designed to put anxious children at ease.
When mums print banners and take to the streets to protest about SEND provision in the city, they do so not because they are troublemakers or have nothing else to do. They do so because they are desperate and, like any other parent in the city, want the best possible outcome for their children.
Slogans and demonstrations are a last-gasp measure. Would you or I take a banner and stand outside the education building if we knew a completed EHC plan would result in our children getting the school place they needed? I know I would.
But these caring, dedicated mums should not be driven to this action.
The system in Sheffield has to be a lot more efficient.