Back at school – your concerns and what the guidance says
For most of us, this last half term has been about adjusting to the kids being back in the classroom environment after the third, and hopefully final, lockdown.
All types of schools and educational settings have again had to work out how to organise teaching, the curriculum, classrooms and the school day to offer the best education, while still minimising the risk of transmission of coronavirus, following the latest government guidance.
Meanwhile, our children and young people with SEND have had their resilience tested further still, as they seek to adapt to yet more change.
Here are some of the issues and concerns that families are sharing with us about the return to school, together with reminders of what the government says should be happening:
National and local government advice makes it clear that attendance at school from 8 March is mandatory, but schools are expected to take a supportive approach and to not penalise families if their child has been anxious about the return to school and a slower, more supported return is needed.
Some families have reported that remote learning has worked well for their children during lockdown and, in these cases, productive conversations between schools, local authorities and families should happen about using this experience to find the right way forward. For clinically extremely vulnerable children who are shielding, schools and colleges are required to continue providing support with remote education, however shielding officially comes to an end on 31 March. For families in this position, there needs to be discussion with school or college around ongoing concerns, and a plan put in place for the summer term.
Education settings should be taking a supportive rather than punishing approach to children’s behaviour at the moment, recognising the challenges children and young people with SEND might face in returning to school and the multitude of feelings and adjustments they are juggling.
Masks and testing
Where appropriate, reasonable adjustments should be made with regard to testing for children and young people with SEND, and the guidance is clear that a ‘no test, no entry’ policy is unacceptable. Similarly, reasonable adjustments must be made for those children not able to wear face masks. However, some of our children and young people with SEND, particularly those in secondary school or college, are still very anxious about being asked to put on a mask or have a test by someone who doesn’t understand their exemption, and unsure about what to do if this happens. Effective communication and filtering information across staff teams has helped ensure clarity and consistency of approach within some schools.
Home-to-school transport drivers across Sussex are now able to book regular lateral flow tests, twice weekly, as part of the Sussex Symptom-free Community Testing programme. Some transport operators may provide the tests directly.
Therapy services and EHCP provision
The guidance is clear that the provision in EHCPs should be delivered, including therapy services in school settings.
From all of the feedback families have shared with us in recent weeks, the importance of personalised effective communication between education settings and families stands out time and time again. While the challenges are immense, proactive contact and working together to discuss problems and find solutions makes a big difference.
As things hopefully settle, it is likely that all our attentions will turn toward the following longer-term issues:
- Annual reviews – these have been delayed for some children. The Assess/Plan/Do/Review graduated approach hasn’t been possible, and some families have concerns about their child’s readiness for important transitions that are coming up
- Mental health and wellbeing – there is huge concern about the longer-term impacts of Covid-19 on mental health and anxiety
- Catch-up – there are concerns that any educational catch-up should be holistic, not just academic, and be differentiated and accessible to children and young people with SEND
- Exams and assessments – the particular challenges faced by SEND pupils must be considered in any assessments that are carried out. While there has been a significant focus on GCSEs and A-Levels, schools must also continue to put forward young people for functional skills awards.
You can read more about what the government says should be in place for children and young people with SEND as they return to school in the recent open letter from Vicky Ford MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families
Finally, though not school-related, many families remain concerned about getting a Covid-19 vaccination. It has taken some time to achieve clarity on which key groups are prioritised to access the vaccine within the SEND community, such as those with learning disabilities, parent carers, school and other staff involved with vulnerable pupils (e.g. transport staff). Read our coronavirus health pages to find the latest information on the vaccine roll out.