Children with special educational needs (SEN) in Sheffield, and across the country, are being badly let down by a system that lacks the funding and resources to support them. The SEN system was in crisis even before the coronavirus pandemic but the situation is now even worse.

New research suggests that 20,000 children with special needs are unlikely to return to school because of safety concerns.  

Headteachers at more than 200 schools and colleges in England told researchers from ASK Research that they had insufficient staff numbers, limited space, and inadequate funding to provide safe education to all children with special educational needs.

School leaders also complained that the government’s guidance has been unclear. This has led to variations in how schools are interpreting guidelines, what activities are considered safe or unsafe and what additional measures are being put in place to ensure the safety of pupils and staff.

A lack of government support and clear guidance means that adhering to safe practice, such as social distancing, presents a particular challenge for special schools and colleges. Many pupils attending special schools require personal and one-to-one care, meaning they must be in frequent close contact with staff.

Headteachers also explained that, even prior to the coronavirus pandemic, they had been asked to do more with less due to austerity measures by the government.

It was obvious months ago that coronavirus was going to create particular problems for special schools. The government should have provided these schools with the guidance, funding and support they needed to overcome these challenges. But it completely failed to do so and now children will suffer as a result.

More and more parents in Sheffield are telling me that they are home-educating their children, not out of choice but because there aren’t enough places available in special schools. That is shocking.

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