Urgent action needed after COVID SEND failures

Urgent action needed after COVID SEND failures

SEND Community Alliance endorses the in-depth research completed by our co-founders, Special Needs Jungle that found 75% of families either did not have or did not know if their child had a risk assessment to facilitate their return to school following the COVID 19 pandemic.

Only 18% reported their child or young person’s school or college had offered them the SEND provision they needed in order to complete their work

SNJ surveyed over 1000 respondents in June 2020, the month that all children with EHCPs were supposed to be back in school. The government said that children with EHCPs could attend all through the pandemic, but that if they were safer or as safe at home, they should stay at home. However, June 1st marked the day that schools should have been prepared to welcome back every disabled child.

You can read the survey here: https://www.specialneedsjungle.com/coronavirus-send-education-survey/

Urgent action needed after COVID SEND failures 1

SCA co-founder, Gillian Doherty of SEND Action commented:

"This survey illustrates starkly the acute impact of the Coronavirus lockdown on children and young people with special educational needs and their families. Significant reduction in provision and therapies for the majority of disabled children has made it difficult for them to access education at home and for those with EHCPs to attend school. The Government’s removal of local authorities’ legal duties, together with the misuse of risk assessments, has exacerbated an already difficult situation, and made it impossible for many families to access crucial support. It is extraordinary that it should have fallen to a volunteer parent-led team to monitor (and expose) the impact of these policies, rather than those responsible for initiating them. We are extremely grateful to Special Needs Jungle for the immense amount of work they have put into conducting and analysing this survey."

Gill Doherty, SEND Action

SCA co-founders, SEND National Crisis commented:

"We would like to extend thanks for the substantial assessment SNJ have provided, and this echoes the stories we have received at SNC during the COVID19 crisis. In an area already at breaking point, the increased suspension of duties specified within EHCP’s under the Coronavirus Act has left many vulnerable families struggling without support. We continue to find parents and children are left out of the dialogue with a general failure of consultation, despite the government’s guidance that continues to set out the importance of communication and “ regard to the views and wishes of a child, the child’s parent or a young person”. The knock-on effect for SENDIST appeals has also been highlighted by Coram,  “School closures have meant delayed assessments or assessments being undertaken in family homes” (Children’s Legal Centre).

"However, we would like to acknowledge the differences in varying LAs and school settings, each having performed under pressure with few resources and increased pressure. Some further guidance needs to be provided in what process is taken by schools to assess the vulnerable. The process of identifying vulnerable children needs clarification and which process pathway used to define this in schools, particularly for those with complex needs. The issue of returning to school without the support outlined in EHCP means too many vulnerable children with complex needs are back in on skeleton staff and reduced hours without access to their correct support. We would like to acknowledge the efforts made by the school’s risk assessing correctly, and the increased efforts to try and support vulnerable children. We would urge further clarity and guidance from government and welcome the review of legislation. With September fast approaching, returning to school whilst continuing suspension of existing duties is an insurmountable task"

SEND National Crisis

SCA co-founder, Renata Blower of Special Needs Jungle said:

"We would like to thank those parents who took time to help us with this survey. We know there were many schools that did an incredible job supporting their disabled pupils, with teachers working harder than ever to provide suitable work. Unfortunately, too many children did not receive the same standard of care and support. With the government significantly reducing the legal requirements for local authorities to provide the support in EHCPs, many children found their support completely removed, in excess of the accommodations in the Coronavirus Act. This caused many difficulties for children and their families. We made numerous recommendations that we believe should be carried out to prevent a repeat of these failures. We hope our research acts as a starting point for more intensive study, followed by action"

Renata Blower, Special Needs Jungle

The recommendations

  1. National government recognises that families with children who have SEND need clear guidance that is timely, unambiguous and written after consultation with a wide range of stakeholders. This should include:
    1. An independent review of the decision to temporarily modify s42 of the Children and Families Act to consider appropriateness and how the relaxations were used or abused, both before and after the announced easements were put into force. This is crucial to ensure future crises do not leave disabled children without any provision for months.
    2. A national consultation with all disabled adults and families of disabled children, to understand their experiences during the pandemic and how they could be better supported and protected during national crises. 
  2. A wide-ranging review into how local and national public services for children with special educational needs operated during lockdown. To focus on:
    1. why some services were unavailable or had limited availability, whether this was avoidable, and if alternatives could have been found; 
    2. how effective communication was with families during this time and how it could have been improved;
    3. the support that was offered to families during this period;
    4. what worked well during this period and how this can be continued;
    5. the effect of service disruption on children with SEND and the projected time and costs involved in reversing the effects of these lost services; and
    6. development of a base service that can be provided in emergency situations, including assigning roles that have extra training and the expectation that these skills will be maintained. 
  3. Research to ensure a better understanding of who needs to shield and how they can be easier to identify and reach. Council disability registers for both children and adults could be used and expanded to support this.
  4. Ensuring that guidance for clinically-vulnerable children is considered equally as important as guidance for adults, and should not be an afterthought;
  5. National research interviewing the schools that did exceptionally well for their disabled students during lockdown and the reasons others did not. This can be incorporated into well-evidenced guidance for remote or blended learning for future crises and to better support children who are unable to go to school.
    1. That government investment in any online or blended learning offer, such as Oak Academy, includes a requirement for differentiation of lessons.
  6. Schools should contact their SEND families to ask what worked well and what did not. This feedback should be used to improve the school’s offer going forward, including:
    1. reviewing differentiation for pupils with SEND both in remote learning and classroom learning;
    2. reviewing how risk assessments were used by the school;
    3. the support offered for families with children who have SEND, and if this was the support the families actually wanted;
    4. how teaching assistants were deployed during this period, specifically those assigned to specific children;
    5. what worked well for families in lockdown and how that might be incorporated into their educational offer;
    6. the training or resources the school needs to make better use of IT in education;
    7. what percentage of pupils have access to the right technology to take part fully in online learning, and what can the school do to support those who do not;
    8. return to school strategies for pupils that may find it difficult, including offering flexible learning for those who found learning at home beneficial; and
    9. introduction of an emergency response policy for each school to be instigated if the school is forced to shut down. This policy should specifically outline how the needs of vulnerable children will continue to be met.