Children with special educational needs severely impacted by wait time “emergency”

Written by Aditi Rane

Sheffield’s special education needs and disability (SEND) mishandling was labelled an “emergency” after a report showed that one boy missed a total of 43 months of school due to lack of support.

An ombudsman report showed that ‘Boy G’, who was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), missed a lengthy period of secondary education, which would have a severe impact on his educational achievement at secondary level and beyond.

This was because the council failed to provide him with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan within the statutory timeframe, affecting his transition from primary to secondary school.

EHC plans are legal documents given to children who require more educational help than is provided by mainstream schools. It describes a child’s special needs and the extra help they require to be able to make progress in school. It can be issued to a child or young person between the age of 0 and 25 years.

At an audit meeting last Thursday, Cllr Mohammed Mahroof said: “This should be classified as an emergency. It has been an area of huge concern for a long time now and parents have been suffering badly in terms of how it’s been handled.

“I had a family who had contacted me, who had been waiting for almost four years to get their situation resolved. The mother was on the verge of a break down when she came to us for help.”

Some 15.7% of children and young people in Sheffield schools were identified as having a special educational need, which is 0.3% higher than the national average. However, the number of children in schools with an education plan is 0.6% lower than England’s average.

However, Tim Armstrong, head of Sheffield City Council’s SEN department, said this did not necessarily mean that Sheffield was behind on providing EHC plans compared to other councils. He said: “One hypothesis is that this because of our early-intervention work. We give funding to children who don’t have EHC plans, which would provide them with the resource they need to manage their needs without it.”

Andrew Jones, the Director of Education Skills at Sheffield City Council, said the council has continued to prioritise the EHC needs assessment process throughout the pandemic.

He added the timeliness at which the plans are assessed has reduced and 80% of EHC Plans updated following an annual review were graded good or better from September 2020 to January 2021.

The council will be meeting again in six months to review their progress.

Written by Aditi Rane

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