Children with special educational needs in Sheffield being failed by system say watchdogs

Children with special educational needs in Sheffield are losing out because of slow and patchy introduction of key reforms aimed at ensuring they get the help they need.

By Dan Hayes
Friday, 25 January, 2019, 16:36
Stock photo - PA.

A report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and education watchdog Ofsted says Sheffield Council and its Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) have not implemented the 2014 disability and special educational needs reforms ‘consistently or swiftly’ enough.

As a result, children and young people with disabilities have widely different experiences and too many do not have their needs assessed accurately or in a timely manner.

Councillor Jayne Dunn

The report highlights seven areas of significant weakness, which the Council and CCG have been asked to address over the next 18 months.

These include the creation of a coherent vision and strategy for special educational needs in Sheffield, better communication, clarity and consistency in the relationship between leaders, parents, carers and children and young people, and improved oversight by the CCG to address unacceptable waiting times and the lack of appropriate support.

Sheffield Council said they were pleased that the report had identified strengths in their practice, but acknowledged the need for improvement in the way children and young people’s needs in the city were identified and met.

Councillor Jayne Dunn, cabinet member for education and skills said: “The results confirmed for us, not only the challenges we knew that we faced but also the complexity involved in solving them for their families.

Sheffield CCG's chief nurse, Mandy Philbin.

“We will continue working hard to improve services at all levels and have already made some significant progress. We know that further success will only happen if everyone works together - the health services, schools, post-16 institutions, families, social care and the council.

“We are supportive of the changes brought in in 2014 and we know that it has taken us longer than it should have to implement these changes but in a time of significant budget cuts we have been able to maintain the funding we have invested in SEND.

“Whilst we have continued to invest, we remain underfunded via the government’s own calculations. We recognise that the challenging financial times are hitting the most vulnerable the hardest.”

The report found many frontline professionals in education, health and care in Sheffield worked hard to make a positive difference to children and young people with special educational needs, and praised ‘well intentioned’ projects on autistic spectrum disorder as well as the excellent support provided for deaf children.

However, in addition to the comments from Sheffield Council, health and education bosses in the the city also accepted improvements were needed.

Mandy Philbin, chief nurse at Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We’d like to thank everyone who got involved in giving feedback as part of the inspection and helping us to address issues.

“We know that there is more work to do to ensure that we consistently identify and meet the needs of children and young people with SEND. We will continue to work with our partners and service users to help deliver this to make experiences better.

“We are, however, pleased that the inspectors’ recognised staff worked hard to make a positive difference to the lives of children and young people.”

Stephen Betts, chief executive of Learn Sheffield said: “The inspection was a thorough process which provides us with an accurate assessment of where we are as a city.

“It correctly praises the hard work of colleagues across Sheffield who work tirelessly to meet the needs of children, young people and their families.

“It also provides useful recommendations about the improvements that need to be made which can only be achieved if all partners are fully involved.”