Demand for special school places for learners with autism in Sheffield continues to outstrip supply.
This year, the council struggled to find secondary school places for around 40 children with autism, which meant that a number of year 6 pupils did not receive their final amended statement by the 15 February deadline.
Although the council has responded to a sharp increase in birth rates by creating extra capacity in the mainstream sector – e.g. by building two new primary schools – there has been no corresponding strategic approach to creating additional specialist provision.
Most special schools and Integrated Resources in the city are heavily oversubscribed, which can make them challenging places for students who cannot cope in busy, noisy environments.
A review of educational provision for learners with autism, which was carried out by an independent consultant last year, is currently being considered by the council. Parents who contributed to the review highlighted a lack of provision for autistic learners, particularly those at the high- and low-functioning end of the spectrum who also have mental health needs and/or challenging behaviour.
To cope with the increased demand this year, Bents Green special school is working with the local authority to develop plans for alternative provision.
New provision has also been developed at Yew Tree Lodge (the former caretaker’s house at Silverdale School), Clifford House on Psalter Lane, which is due to open immediately after Easter, and Sheaf Training. These centres are being set up to meet the needs of learners who are unable to access existing school and college placements; they will offer a bespoke curriculum and combine building-based provision with work placements and home visits. The centres will be run as a collaboration between Becton School (which caters for children and young people with mental health difficulties), the Home and Hospital Education Service, Sheaf Training and Lifelong Learning and Skills. Once they become fully operational, information about access routes and eligibility criteria will be published in the Local Offer.