During June 2020, our website, Special Needs Jungle, surveyed 1,000 parent carers of children and young people with SEND in England, about the educational support their children had been receiving during lockdown.
Two months after schools had closed during the coronavirus outbreak, it was fair to expect schools and colleges to have put in place needed support for their disabled pupils.
At the start of lockdown, the government made it clear that children with education, health and care plans (EHCPs) could continue to attend schools. It expected councils to undertake risk assessments in partnership with parents, to ensure their child could be supported safely in the school environment. The proviso was that they should stay at home if it was as safe, or safer, to do so.
At the start of May, the government removed the absolute duty on local authorities to provide the support set out in EHCPs. This meant many parents were not sure that their children would get the provision they needed. From June 1st, all children with EHCPs were expected back in school. However, some families had been telling us their child’s school had been using risk assessments to effectively prevent their children from returning.
Our survey revealed clear, positive benefits where families had good support. Unfortunately, many were not this lucky:
- 75% of parents said their child either hadn’t had, or they didn’t know if they had been, the subject of a risk assessment. Only 9% said they had been fully involved. A number of parents indeed indicated that a risk assessment had been used to actively dissuade them from sending their child in, or to prevent their child’s attendance.
- 68% of respondents told us that they really struggled to educate their child at home.
- Only 28% of surveyed parents agreed that their child’s educational placement had provided very good support during lockdown. More than half said their school had not provided good support at all.
- Fewer than one in four reported that schoolwork had been differentiated for their child's needs. This reduced to just one in six if their child was in mainstream provision. Many parents said there had been no differentiation at all, so their child couldn’t complete work set.
- Independent and non-maintained special schools (INMSS) offered the best support, with 48% of parents saying their child had experienced good, or very good, support. This is in contrast to state mainstream schools, where just 23% felt the same way. In state special schools, the figure was just 26%
- As you might expect, INMSS schools did relatively well at differentiating their pupils’ work, with almost half of all respondents (49%) agreeing their child’s schoolwork had been suitably differentiated for them. What was less expected, is that only 26% of parents with a child in state-run special schools had a similar experience. A large majority of parents with children at mainstream schools (including specialist SEND units and resource bases) experienced very poor efforts to support individual learning needs. Only 16% said there was at least some attempt to differentiate work.
- Most children who usually received therapies such as speech and language (SLT) or occupational therapy, missed months of sessions during lockdown. While we heard of some whose SLT moved online, only 12% of parents reported that their child received some form of SLT, occupational therapy, or physiotherapy. This means many children are likely to need intensive support to regain skills lost or not progressed during this period.
- For children who normally had 1:1 teaching assistant (TA) support, only 22% of INMSS pupils received any continuation of this online during lockdown. This fell to 17% in post-16 settings, 9% in mainstream settings and 8% in state special schools. This indicates that the large majority who usually had TA support had none at all, putting significant extra pressure on families to help their child complete work.
Anxiety of children with SEND
There was a roughly equal split between children whose anxiety had increased during lockdown, and those whose anxiety had actually reduced during lockdown. Some found the lack of separation between school and home life was difficult. For others, a less formal learning environment and reduced pressure were beneficial. Some of these parents said they are now considering long-term home education.
Relaxation of SEND duties
Many parents were angry at the government’s decision to relax duties under s42 of the Children & Families Act. However, over half of respondents said it didn’t affect their decision to send their child back to school. Reasons included that some provision was better than none at all, or as their child’s EHCP had never been fully implemented, the easement of legal duties would probably make no difference.
Our survey indicates the consequences of many public bodies withdrawing all disabled children’s provision have been far-reaching, with families unable to access educational provision, exacerbated by the misuse of risk assessments. It has also impacted on transitions to new settings and left many children without educational placements for next year.
With the SEND system already in crisis, coronavirus has amplified existing issues for families. We have made a number of recommendations including:
- A wide-ranging review into how services for children with SEND operated during lockdown,
- Research to learn from schools that did provide high-quality remote provision.
- A strategic five-year plan to improve SEND education and embed collaborative working across education, health and social care.
We hope the government will work with our SEND community to ensure it is better prepared for future crises, with well-evidenced, workable, compassionate and co-produced plans to support disabled children, young people and their families. It must ensure that any future local or national lockdowns, must not see a repeat of disabled children and young people being forgotten, or having their needs brushed aside for convenience, by those tasked with supporting them.
This is just a brief look at what is a detailed survey and recommendations. Please visit our website to see the whole survey findings.