A huge thank you to everyone who took part in our State of Sheffield survey! We had a fantastic response, with over 700 parents completing the questionnaire. The survey repeated many of the questions we had posed in a previous questionnaire, back in 2014. We found that on most fronts, things have become worse.
- More families report that they feel isolated and are struggling to cope. More parents say that they are not getting enough support from social care services.
- Key services for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are stretched ever more thinly. For some services, as many as 90% of parents are now saying that their child is getting “too little” input. It is likely that capacity issues in NHS services are impacting on the time it takes to get an assessment – many families had to wait for over a year, and some for two or three years.
- Three quarters of the children in our sample were affected by anxiety and/or depression, yet parents report great difficulties in accessing mental health services.
- Education Health and Care (EHC) plans are not working as intended. These plans were meant to create a more holistic and person-centred approach to meeting the needs of the most complex children – yet most parents described the process of applying for an EHC plan as difficult. Parents also expressed concerns about the quality of plans, particularly for statement-to-EHCP conversions. Quality issues could be addressed through the annual review process; however, our survey found that this process is often non-compliant with statutory requirements. And even the best-written plans are of limited use if they are not being properly implemented – which our survey found to be a widespread problem.
- Children with SEND in mainstream settings are bearing the brunt of many years of real-terms funding cuts. In 2014, almost half of all parents of mainstream pupils thought that their child’s needs were being met by their child’s school; in 2019, this had fallen to just a quarter.
To introduce large-scale system change at a time of austerity was always going to be problematic, and our survey bears this out. The 2014 SEND reforms have raised families’ aspirations, but successive cuts to local authority and school budgets alongside increasing demand have made these very hard to achieve. Mainstream schools and colleges have been further disincentivised from promoting inclusion by an education policy that prioritises academic attainment above all else.
We recognise that where the system still works well for families, this is often due to the committed professionals and practitioners who go the extra mile. Their good will is not an unlimited resource.
Government funding cuts have caused many of the harmful trends we are now seeing, and long-term funding increases are needed to reverse them. However, there is much that Sheffield City Council, NHS Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group and providers of education, health and social care services can do to alleviate the issues highlighted in our report- for example, through improved information and communication, more training for staff and parents, and more effective pathways and processes. Such changes will only be effective if they are coproduced with children, young people and parents.
We will continue to provide constructive challenge and push for these local improvements to be made. We will also push for more government funding and changes to national policy through our MPs and through our umbrella organisation, the National Network of Parent Carer Forums.
Download an executive summary | Download the full report