Anger as college for special needs students is forced to close

Dozens of students with special needs will lose their education after a Sheffield college had its funding pulled.

By Lucy Ashton
Thursday, 01 August, 2019, 09:47
Sheffield Independent Film and Television, photo taken by a photography student there

Sheffield Independent Film and Television (Shift) provides qualifications, training and work experience to young people aged 16 to 25 and around a third of its students have special educational needs or disabilities.

The Workstation enterprise has been running for 26 years and works with some of the city’s most vulnerable young people but will close in September.

Shift had an Ofsted inspection earlier this year and was rated Inadequate. The Education Skills Funding Agency immediately withdrew all funding as it has a policy to terminate contracts for Inadequate organisations.

Shift has made a formal complaint about how the inspection was carried out and challenged the decision and an appeal is currently going through arbitration.

But trustees have taken the difficult decision to close the college because funding has been severed. Ten members of staff will lose their jobs.

Bridget Kelly, head of the centre, said: “We are so disappointed. At our last Ofsted two years ago, we were graded Good. We recognise there were things we could do better, mainly around systems, but we clearly feel that the delivery of education to students is good.

“The work we do is delicate and nuanced and the inspection didn’t take into account these are SEND students. We are a niche and small place but we offer the two things which Sheffield City Region says are drivers for the city – inclusion and digital upskilling.”

Parents said they had been left heartbroken by the announcement with many saying their children had struggled in mainstream education and Shift was excellent.

One mum, whose son has Asperger’s Syndrome, said: “I told him that Shift was closing and it has caused him massive anxiety. He’s had to go on antidepressants because he has been so anxious and upset by everything.”

Another mum, whose daughter has cerebral palsy, said: “We’ve had to fight for our children since they were babies and we want the best for them. As soon as you find something, someone wants to get rid of it.”

Ofsted said it did not comment on complaints received but takes all complaints very seriously and “investigates each one thoroughly, dealing with them as quickly as possible.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We have been clear that where independent training providers are judged ‘inadequate’, they can expect to have their funding terminated.

“Protecting learners is always our main priority, and Ofsted’s published assessments must be taken seriously. We will continue to support those learners affected to complete their studies with an alternative provider.”