Parents’ despair as college for special needs students closes

The group of mums around the table are furious, upset and despairing.

By Lucy Ashton
Thursday, 01 August, 2019, 10:07
Sheffield Independent Film and Television, photo by photography students

Their children are all students at Sheffield Independent Film and Television (Shift), which provides qualifications, training and work experience to young people aged 16 to 25.

About a third of its students have special educational needs or disabilities and for these mums, it’s been the light at the end of a very dark tunnel with the education system.

They all say Shift has not only educated their children, but transformed their personalities but Shift will close in September after Ofsted inspectors rated it Inadequate.

Sheffield Independent Film and Television, photo by photography students

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. An appeal is currently going through arbitration but as funding has been severed, trustees have reluctantly had to close it.

Jane’s 18-year-old son has Asperger’s Syndrome. She 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.

Sheffield Independent Film and Television, photo by photography students

“He started last September on a recommendation from a mainstream college because he was struggling.

“The places they suggested were Hillsborough, Chesterfield or Barnsley colleges but it’s a long way for him to go on a bus or tram to an area he doesn’t know.

“They are all mainstream colleges and the outcome was not very good because the support just isn’t there.”

Jill’s daughter is 17 and has cerebral palsy, hearing difficulties and can’t travel independently. She was a selective mute but Shift has helped her confidence.

“All the way through her GCSEs she was predicted Bs but when we went to pick up her exam results she was absolutely distraught as she had only managed to get Ds. I was absolutely gobsmacked as we weren’t expecting that.

“I went to speak to the careers advisor and she suggested Shift, even though she had been promised a place at the sixth form and we didn’t have an Education and Health Care Plan.

“My daughter had a six-week assessment at Shift and they put learning patterns in place for her and everything that has been done has catered for her care and health needs.

“They identified that she may want to start photography and that’s what she has been doing. I’m still hoping that Shift manages to stay open or my daughter will just get lost in the education system that has already let her down.

“We have had to fight for our children since they were babies and we want the best for our children. As soon as you find something, someone wants to get rid of it. It just infuriates me.”

Vanessa’s son is 18 and has somatoform disorder, where a mental disorder manifests itself as a physical, excruciating pain in his leg.

She said: “His previous school had been awful. They were unsupportive because he had ongoing physical and mental health problems.

“He went to secondary school and started as a really bright student but went downhill fast and by Y10 he was more and more depressed.

“He did his GCSEs at an in-patient unit for adolescent mental health. He got really awful grades and lost all ability to concentrate, even with things he loved.

“He wanted to do film and media and tried to do a phased start to college but he found it very difficult. He started dropping off and other students weren’t considerate like they are at Shift. There were just too many people and only so much a college can do to support him.

“He had only been there a term and had a lot of absences due to the pain in his leg and he just couldn’t do it. He was removed from the course and from then I tried to find everything and anything for him because I knew he was meant to be in education and couldn’t find anything he could possibly cope with.”

Vanessa heard about Shift and contacted them. She added: “I thought this is perfect. Since being here they have done confidence building and he’s been able to get into a study pattern. He was terrified of people but they have shown him how to be recorded on film and talk to other people.

“Everyone here is willing to give each other space and they can all understand where each other is coming from.

“If you have any level of special needs or difficulties the gaps get bigger as you go through education. At primary school it is masked but as they get older they need more support but there isn’t any.”

Desiree’s son is 21. He is autistic and has been at Shift for two years.

She said: “Further Education colleges are failing our young people. The reason we are here is because our children were failed by the autism provision and it’s getting worse.

“My son had significant communication difficulties but at Shift they were nurturing enough to understand what a young person needs.

“We are typical parents and there are loads of us out there. We are vocal but there are parents who aren’t or can’t be, for example if they are vulnerable or have English as a second language.

“Funding cuts are hitting the most vulnerable and young people are really at the sharp end.

“There is a wide failure of our young people and if we don’t call this out, nothing will get done. If we have to fight for everything it doesn’t just impact on that young person but the whole family. Parents have no powers.”

Harry’s brother is 21 and autistic. He said: “He had mental health problems in the past and in secondary school he had a really tough time and pressure from peers.

“His behaviour started to change and he went out of control. The school was quite results based so he left and was passed from pillar to post and his behaviour and mental health deteriorated. He was in a really dark place and get worse and worse.

“We moved to Sheffield and I thought I wouldn’t get him back into education but fortunately we found Shift.

“We were really lucky, the staff were very accommodating. I couldn’t believe what happened, he really flourished and focused on ploughing through his work and was really inquisitive. He gets himself sorted in the morning and is self motivated.”