During the pandemic, as individuals and with our respective groups, we’ve been caring for our disabled children or getting information out to families.

But we are also members of key national groups, including the Special Education Consortium, so we’ve been busy thinking about the current situation and what needs to happen next.

Here’s what we think are the current issues:

Coronavirus and SEND: Current issues of concern 1

1. Restoration of Section 42 rights

The dilution of section 42 EHCP rights to ‘reasonable endeavours’ duties are already causing serious problems, resulting in many children with SEND being unable to access education, or having limited access to education. It is crucial that these rights are restored to prevent a sharp increase in the number of children with SEND being denied their right to education in the longer term. Relaxation of the law has occurred in an already failing SEND system.

Without legal enforcement, EHCPs are of limited value. The ‘reasonable endeavours’ duty is too often being interpreted as an optional extra. Families are reporting that children with SEND have not been receiving their usual therapies or have had these reduced significantly and that 1:1 support has been dropped (with TAs either not available or supervising classes by themselves).

Families who have been offered online EHC needs assessments are concerned that these will be inadequate or unfair. They’re also worried that refusing one that’s been offered will further delay provision so this is a very difficult balance.

2. Lack of provision for those unable to attend school

The Section 19 duty to provide education other than at school does not appear to be happening in reality. No policy and provision has been recommended for those who have been formally advised to shield (or have family members who have been advised to shield) or for those risk assessed as unable to return.

Some parents don’t want to send their children back to school due to concerns about COVID risk, or safety concerns relating to reduced provision, or offers of temporary placements that are not suited to their child’s needs.

While in theory, children with EHCPs were entitled to remain in or return to school, many have been unable to do so because their schools are closed, limited in capacity or lack sufficient SEND provision. As the situation evolves, some children are not being permitted to return due to a school’s decision as a result of a risk assessment or removal of support.

There is a serious risk of creating a two-tier education system with teachers unable to manage split classrooms. Less attention may be given to those learning online as more children return to school, due to limited capacity.

Children with SEND and medical needs are much more likely to fall into this group. There is a potential for a sharp increase in the number of children with SEND leaving or being pushed out of school. It’s crucial to put in place a close monitoring system in relation to this. Early communication and planning particularly are important for children with SEND.

3. Misuse of risk assessments

We are concerned that risk assessments are being used to deny education to children with SEND. Children with SEND are being told to stay at home even when their parents want them to attend schools.

The main reasons given are concerns regarding social distancing, personal/intimate needs and staffing ratios. There is a risk of this being used as an excuse to offroll children with SEND

There are also concerns about the quality of online assessments and the participation of families and inclusion of their views.

4. Impact of behaviour policies/exclusions.

Already worrying reports about behaviour policies being changed to include exclusion of children who cannot follow social distancing rules.

5. Planning for children without school places

The legal relaxation of timescales has severely exacerbated the difficulties for children awaiting school placements, particularly those currently going through the EHCP process and is likely to cause some children to be delayed in their return to school.

There are children who are still without named placements for September. Families face difficulties visiting potential schools because of coronavirus restrictions. Schools may be particularly unwilling to accept new pupils with SEND when they are an “unknown quantity” and their support needs are uncertain.

“As soon as reasonably practicable” is a very weak duty in the context of a system where statutory timelines were already frequently ignored. There needs to be a steer on how these processes will work and routes of redress.

6. Differentiated learning/accessibility of online learning

There has been much investment in online resources to the point where some families are overwhelmed. Online learning is often not differentiated or children with different levels of SEND or who may find it difficult to engage with online delivery.

Lack of face-to-face and interactive meetings can make learning inaccessible. There are particular challenges around children who find it hard to work independently and need high levels of support.

SEND families often have less time and capacity to navigate online resources, particularly in the current situation. Despite Government attempts there is still unequal access to technology. The loss of direct, personal support is having a significant impact.

The quality of existing online support is likely to deteriorate as more children return to school and capacity is stretched.

There also needs to be clarity about the prospect of summer schools and accessibility for children and young people with SEND.

7. Missed provision/support

Reports of waiting lists for support closing or lengthening, delayed appointment, difficulties accessing therapies and curriculum. Where children are unable to attend school or access the full provision outlined in their EHCP how will these gaps be addressed

Guidance needs to be given to families to enable them to convert EHCP funding into a personal budget so they can hire remote tutors or therapists. Will there be summer school offer for those that want this? And will this include an online offer?

8. Planning for transitions

Transitions have been a major issue for children with SEND, especially for those making the transition between primary and secondary. Making the transition back to school will also be difficult for many children with SEND and needs to be managed with care. This is a particular issue for those with needs relating to anxiety/mental health/disruption to routines. The impact of
missed education could be significant for some children with SEND when starting at a new school.

Social reintegration support is crucial following prolonged isolation from peers and the disruption of routine. Some children with EHCPs have been offered places at different temporary settings but have been unable to take up these offers due to their SEND needs.

Many families are very worried about returning. Early communication and planning are particularly important and last minute decisions and uncertainty contribute to high anxiety in an already stressful situation. How will this be handled?

9. SEND Transport

Some parents of children previously entitled to transport are now being advised they have to arrange transport themselves due to risk assessments.

This does not seem consistent with LA duties and needs to be addressed through clear a national directive.

10. Lack of support for carers/home educators

The lack of respite, therapies and support are having an acute impact on the families of children with SEND. There are also significant additional costs in providing materials and home support to children with SEND.

Some schools have refused reasonable requests to send equipment home.

Also, if some children are at school and need the equipment, and some are at home also need access to the same equipment, this means someone is going to miss out, unless funding is provided for extra equipment to be purchased.

Some families reporting severe mental health impact of prolonged isolation. Situation exacerbated by charities (especially smaller ones providing direct support) losing funding. Will this be addressed through eg financial support as the impact of the COVID situation is prolonged?