Many of you will have seen the article in the Sheffield Star highlighting a survey by our group about special educational needs in Sheffield, which showed that only 10% of parents feel there is adequate provision for children with special needs in mainstream schools.
As a group, we thought we had an idea of how parents felt from our own experiences about the difficulties our children were facing but wished to ask as many other families as possible for their views. We decided to conduct a questionnaire so we had more clout facing the local authority with our concerns. Clare Peck, one of our members, put the questionnaire together and we received more than 200 replies. Once we looked at the responses we decided to raise the issues at the Cabinet Meeting in November to talk to the politicians face to face. We wanted them to know the difficulties our children face on a day to day basis and give them a chance to look at the issues and improve the social and educational experience of our children.
Three of us braved the Cabinet meeting! We had to put together a three-minute question stating our case, so worked extremely hard trying to condense everything we wanted to say into three short minutes - rather a difficult task I am sure many of you will appreciate! We stood before a large boardroom-style table with Sheffield's most senior local authority politicians and officers, and asked our question. We highlighted a lack of support, SEN children being bullied and general dissatisfaction with provision within the mainstream system. We also said we wished to be involved in the decision-making processes and asked for a senior politician to be a champion for disabled children here in Sheffield.
Since the cabinet meeting we have received a response from Councillor Sangar thanking us for asking the question and also extending his thanks to 'all the parents who took the time to contribute to the research, (and to assure us) "that the officers who are working on our strategy for Inclusive Learning will be using the report to inform the development." He also said how pleased he was to hear that we "are now involved in the task groups working on the Strategy for Inclusive Learning". (Which is not quite correct - parents have been involved in the task groups working on the LDD Strategy, the Inclusive Learning Strategy has had no parental input so far!) They are also looking at nominating a Sheffield "Champion" for Children with learning difficulties and disabilities and we'll let you know how this goes in future newsletters.
I think it was worth going to Cabinet and asking questions of the politicians face to face and would certainly do this again. Yes, we were intimidated but we supported each other and had the feedback from many parent carers to press our case. Let's hope long-lasting change results from our campaign for better services for our children!
by Deborah Woodhouse (parent carer)