Coronavirus & education

Coronavirus - support with education for children and young people with SEND

Coronavirus has meant a series of changes around education. These have led to a lot of concerns and questions for families with children and young people with SEND about what is happening with their child’s education during coronavirus. The situation continues to change with the new lockdown in January 2021 and the roadmap to ease that from March. We will keep updating this section.

Being at school

Opening and closing of schools, colleges and early years
On 8 March we go back to full opening for all schools, colleges and early years settings, including special schools and alternative provision. During the January and February lockdown, mainstream schools were only offering places for children of keyworkers and vulnerable children including those with EHCPs. Now all children are expected back in mainstream schools and colleges. Early years settings, special schools and alternative provision were meant to stay open for all children during the lockdown period but in practice many were not offering the usual full time provision for all pupils so this is a change for them too. Some schools will have a few days of phased return but this should not be for an extended period.

All types of school and educational settings are again having to work out how to organise teaching, the curriculum, classrooms and the school day to offer the best education they can but still minimise the risk of transmission of coronavirus. The government’s guidance about how they should do this has been updated and is set out for each type of education setting:

In this section we try to cover the questions and issues you will have about all this and where to get further support or advice if you need this. The government’s overall guide for parents is also worth a look.

Making it safe at school
Schools and parents are naturally concerned about how to keep everyone as safe as possible, including pupils and staff. All education settings have had guidance about what they should do to limit the spread of coronavirus and keep children and teachers safe. The main changes to how things were when schools were open in the autumn are around masks and tests.

Face masks are now advised for secondary school pupils and staff in classrooms as well as corridors and communal areas, unless social distancing can be maintained. This apples to all secondary age pupils unless they are exempt. The exemption is the same as in shops and public transport i.e. for reasons of health, disability, mental health or communication needs. Children in primary schools are NOT expected to wear masks. The government guidance on face coverings in education goes into more detail.

The guidance for schools about how to work safely during Covid now includes information about how to deal with aerosol generating procedures in school.

Secondary schools, FE colleges, special schools and alternative provision now have access to coronavirus tests to use for staff and pupils of secondary age and above. Each school will have to arrange how to use these tests regularly based on the government guidance.  There is specific guidance for special schools and some of the advice in this guide may also be useful for children with SEND in mainstream schools. Testing is also covered in the government’s guide for parents.

These are tests for people who don’t have coronavirus symptoms (asymptomatic). They are called rapid or lateral flow device tests. If your child has symptoms you should book one of the more reliable PCR tests through the NHS online system and keep them off school. The school tests are to try to pick up people who have coronavirus but aren’t aware of this. Up to one-third of people who have coronavirus are asymptomatic. It is expected that schools will do mass testing initially in school but then move to home testing. The aim is to do twice weekly tests. Testing is voluntary and cannot take place without consent from parents and the child or young person. The guidance is clear that no child should be excluded from coming to school because of being unable or unwilling to take part in this testing programme.  Testing is to help everyone be safer but some children will find it difficult or impossible. Talk to your child’s school if you know your child will struggle with the tests. Bear in mind this is new for schools too, but refer to the need for “reasonable adjustments” for people who are disabled if you feel they are not being flexible in response to your child’s individual needs.

School transport continues with the changes made to reduce the risk of coronavirus, for example, more cleaning of vehicles or seating pupils differently (more on transport below). After school activities and clubs can restart.

Children that are clinically vulnerable
If your child was considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) you will have shielded them at home during the first lockdown last year. The advice about which children are clinically extremely vulnerable changed last summer, but some children and young people needed to shield again during the 2021 lockdown. These children and young people are advised not to attend school while shielding advice applies nationally, currently until March 31. You should already know if your child is in this group of children who receive specialist health care, for example children receiving cancer care or those at risk of severe infection due to an immunodeficiency, and have a shielding letter. But if you are unsure about whether your CEV child still needs to stay off school, contact their consultant or GP. See our Covid-19 Health and wellbeing page for more about shielding and children and young people who are clinically extremely vulnerable.

Some children who do not need to stay away from school for their own safety have faced a barrier because they need care that involves aerosol generating procedures but there is now clearer guidance about how schools can accommodate this safely and avoid excluding a child for this reason.

Children and young people who live in a household with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable can continue to go to school, but you will need to take extra precautions to distance at home.

Home to school transport
Local authorities had to reinstate safe home-to-school transport for children going to school from September. The government set out guidance on 11 August for how safe home-to-school transport should work from September. Both East Sussex and Brighton & Hove transport teams worked to ensure that their arrangements are safe and comply with the guidance.

The law on school transport has not changed and so your child’s eligibility for transport is the same as in any other year. But you may be offered a personal travel budget or mileage allowance instead of a seat on dedicated transport. This is a temporary measure to help make best use of the transport there is when measures like additional distancing are needed. It is up to you whether you accept this offer. It may be a positive if you are concerned about safety in the short term. It will not affect your child’s eligibility for dedicated transport in the future. You shouldn’t be asked to commit to accepting a personal payment or mileage allowance for a specified period of time, but the local authority would need reasonable notice to reinstate home to school transport for your child when you decide to stop.

For children who travel to and from school on dedicated school transport, there are control measures to reduce the risk of transmission of infection. These are not identical to those on public transport because they are usually travelling with the same group of young people on a regular basis and not with members of the public. But the measures should include a combination of stable groups or ‘bubbles’, social distancing, keeping windows open, use of masks for over 11s if they are able to tolerate these, hand washing before and after the journey and extra cleaning of the vehicle.

Brighton & Hove produced a letter for parents and a simple social story to help your child be ready for the new arrangements. If they have been off school during the 2021 lockdown you may want to look at this story with them again.

Attendance
Now schools are reopening for all pupils from 8 March the normal rules and duties around attendance apply. This means sanctions such as fines can be used, unless your child is shielding or self-isolating on health advice. This is a worry for parents whose children have found it easier to be at home than at school, who have high levels of anxiety at the best of times or find change difficult. As with the return to school last September, schools are being asked to approach this sensitively and support the children who will find it hard to return to school. They have been told to identify pupils who are reluctant or anxious about attending or who are at risk of disengagement and develop plans for re-engaging them. This can include using some of the catch-up funding they are getting from the government to offer extra support to these children.

If getting your child back to school is difficult, speak to their school and plan how to work together. You can also ask SENDIASS for advice if this is not working well.

Behaviour and exclusions
The normal powers for schools to use fixed term and permanent exclusions have not changed during the period of coronavirus. This means schools still have the legal power to exclude. Of course the usual rules around exclusions still apply so schools must have a lawful reason to exclude and any formal exclusion must be non-discriminatory, reasonable, fair and proportionate. The government have amended the arrangements for governing board and independent review panel meetings in relation to exclusions during the period of the coronavirus pandemic, to allow for phone or video call meetings and some extension of timescales. The guidance was updated again in October.

For exclusions from 25 September until March 2021 the normal timescales apply, other than the time limits to apply for an independent review when a governing body has decided not to reinstate a permanently excluded child (from 15 to 25 days) and the time limits for governing bodies or independent review panels to meet (check guidance for details). The guidance also sets out that meetings of governing boards or independent review panels can be held via remote access until March 2021 if necessary and if certain conditions are met.

The guidance for schools about reopening fully in March notes the impact that coronavirus and a second lockdown will have had on children and young people, such that extra support will be needed around mental and emotional well being. It also notes a risk of more poor behaviour because children have not had the routine of school.  Last September schools wrote temporary changes into their behaviour policy to set out the new rules needed to keep the school Covid-safe and what will happen if pupils break those rules. These will apply again now. It is important to remember that pupils can only be excluded for disciplinary reasons: they cannot be excluded because a school cannot meet their needs or as the result of a Covid-19 risk assessment.

Any amendments to a school’s behaviour policy, made in light of Covid-19, must fit with the setting’s duties under the Equality Act 2010 and not discriminate against children who are disabled. Exclusion should only ever be a last resort for children with SEND.  Again our local authorities (East Sussex and Brighton & Hove) are asking schools to take a supportive approach and services like BHISS and ESBAS are offering schools help and advice to do so. The SENDIASS helpline can give advice if your child is excluded formally or informally.

Support for parents
There are some additional support services offered due to the impact of Covid-19.

East Sussex: The ISEND helpline for parent carers of children with SEND run by educational psychologists reopened on 18 January in response to the new lockdown. Any parent of a child or young person with SEND can call the ISEND telephone number 01273 481967 at any time and leave a message saying that you would like to talk to an EP. Your child does not need to have an EHCP. You can also turn to your school and to ISEND services currently working with your child.

There is an ESCC contact point for all queries relating to Children’s Services and provision in the current difficult situation. Email cs.customerrelations@eastsussex.gov.uk or call 0345 60 80 192 (10am-3pm). If you haven’t been able to resolve the problem about your child’s SEND provision, contact this number as they can direct your issue to the right service.

Families with health concerns over how safe it is for their child to attend school, can call the CITES Therapy One Point (TOP) for advice and support on 0300 123 2652.

The School Health team (school nurses) offer a ChatHealth confidential texting service for young people aged 11-19. Young people can text about any concerns or health issues on 07507 332473.  Or contact 0300 123 4062, email kentchft.esschoolhealthservice@nhs.net or use their online referral form.

Brighton and Hove: Brighton & Hove Inclusion Support Service (BHISS) are running an open email for parent carers; if you are concerned about your child’s development and emotional wellbeing, please email your enquiry to BHISS@Brighton-hove.gov.uk. They also have a central phone number linked to a duty Educational Psychologist 01273 293481

Schools Wellbeing Service have a consultation line for parent carers who may be concerned about emotional wellbeing and mental health issues. If you would like to speak to a BHISS mental health worker, then please email your enquiry to SWSConsultationLine@brighton-hove.gov.uk

School nurses can offer confidential advice and support on a wide range of issues (including health issues) about the return to school. You can text them on 07480 635423. Young people aged 11 to 19 can also use this number to use the ChatHealth service about any concerns or health issues.

You can always contact the Amaze SENDIASS helpline for additional support and to hear about online drop ins and groups. You can seek peer support from other parents/carers on the Amaze Facebook Group or other local parent-led SEND groups in your area.

Brighton & Hove parent carer support groups include mASCot and Brighton Pebbles.

East Sussex parent carer support groups include iContact, Impact and Embrace.

See below for national links including the new support service for Black, Asian and minority ethnic children, young people and their families affected by Covid-19. And see our section on health and wellbeing.

Support with learning for children with SEND

Help to catch up
The government announced an extension to their ‘catch-up’ programme for children in England who have missed out on school during lockdown. In the school year 2020/21 this includes £350m for one-on-one or small group tutoring for some of the most disadvantaged pupils at state schools in England and another £650m shared among primary and secondary schools to tackle the impact of Covid-19 for all pupils. A second round of funding has been promised for the academic year 2021/22. It is up to head teachers how this is spent. None of it is specifically set aside for children with SEND, although helping this group of children make up for what they have missed is one of the recommended uses for the money. Extra funding has also been provided to sixth forms and FE colleges through the 16 to 19 tuition fund to support small group tuition for 16 -19 year old students where learning has been disrupted.

Schools will be juggling many priorities around how they use this funding and when you work out how much it is per school, it is clear it won’t be enough for everything they want to do. You should feel able to say clearly what you think your child needs, but be realistic in your expectations.

The school offer for children learning at home
After March 8 most children will be back in school and wholescale remote learning will stop. But schools must offer remote learning to children who are off school because they are shielding or who have to miss school for a period of self-isolation because they have a positive test or are in close contact with someone with the virus. Of course schools have had more experience now in offering remote learning and there are more online resources for them to draw on.

This remote learning should take into account your child’s SEND needs. If  the learning your child is offered does not work for them, speak to their class teacher or tutor first and then the SENCO if necessary. If they are on SEN Support this is matter for negotiation, but you can remind them that the law about using their “best endeavours” to meet a child’s needs still applies. If your child has an EHCP they are now entitled to receive the provision in their plan, even if this is in a different way to usual, as the temporary relaxation of the law on this ended last summer. Realistically, schools will face challenges in achieving this, but if you do not feel they are doing enough and talking to the SENCO does not resolve things, you should contact your CWO or APO. You can also ask SENDIASS for advice.

Advice and support for schools and children
Brighton & Hove educational psychologists, specialist teaching staff and schools mental health workers at BHISS, (the Inclusion Support Service) are continuing to advise and support schools and their pupils with SEND or emotional and mental health issues. Some services are being provided remotely, by telephone or other platforms such as Skype and Zoom but they are now allowed to go into schools to see staff and pupils. For full details of how this is working and how to contact them, read the SEN interim arrangements information on the council’s website.

East Sussex ISEND services such as educational psychology, ESBAS and CLASS are working in different ways but as close as possible to business as usual including making visits to schools in a Covid-safe way. They are offering guidance to schools and if your child was already being supported by an ISEND service you can contact them direct. The ISEND  helpline for parent carers of children with SEND run by educational psychologists relaunched on 18 January 2021. You can find lots of information on the Local Offer 

Exams and grades
The government had hoped that exams would go ahead in the summer of 2021, with some adjustments to take account of the way education has been disrupted this year.  But now we have a national lockdown again, the summer exams have been cancelled. Like last year, there will be a process for young people to be given grades but this time it will  be based on teacher assessment. Some vocational exams and tests are going ahead. Details of how this will work are expected soon.

If any of this leaves you or your young person uncertain what to do next after school and college, Amaze’s Looking Forward project may be able to help you think about this.  For more information about planning ahead around education, employment and training for young people with SEND see our section on Young People and Coronavirus.

EHCP processes during coronavirus

Assessments for EHCPs
EHC needs assessments are still happening despite coronavirus. Your child’s school or you can still make a new request for assessment and if the EHCP process is already underway it should continue. In April 2020 the government announced temporary regulations to relax the timescales that apply to EHC plan processes, but this ended on 25 September. Both East Sussex and Brighton & Hove are working to the normal time limits as closely as possible, will let you know when they can’t do so and will give you an idea of what the new timescale will be if it has changed.

If a different school is named in an EHC plan during the coronavirus period, that school must still admit your child by adding them to the school roll. They should then consider them in the same way as existing pupils. As they don’t know your child and school arrangements are unusual due to coronavirus safety measures, you and the school may agree a phased start. In some cases you may have agreed to this school or college without being able to visit beforehand. You will need to give a bit of time to see how it is working out, but if after this you really feel it is the wrong placement for your child, contact your CWO/APO in the SEN team. You can ask SENDIASS for advice too.

Brighton & Hove

The SEN Team at Brighton and Hove City Council are working from home and prioritising essential work including completing EHC needs assessments and producing EHC plans. They are having to work differently in these difficult times. Read more about about how the Brighton & Hove SEN Team are working currently.

Reports by professionals will be done based on existing knowledge of a child, contact by phone and video conferencing e.g. Skype and where possible face to face assessment. Educational Psychologists will use a consultation approach, talking to parents, school and in some cases the child or young person. It will be noted that the reports were written during the coronavirus period and where necessary they may be amended later. There will not be a co-production meeting. The casework officer will prepare a draft plan based on all the advices which will go to SEN Panel and then be sent to you, the school and professionals who wrote the advices. You will then get a call to talk it through and you will be able to comment and ask for changes as you would have done at a co-production meeting. You and your child should still be actively involved in the process.

The SEN Panel is till meeting with the usual multi-agency membership including a parent representative.

East Sussex

ISEND services at East Sussex County Council are all still operating. Obviously they will be having to work differently in these difficult times, but the Assessment and Planning Team is still completing EHC needs assessments and producing EHC plans, keeping to normal timescales as far as possible.

Your APO should let you know if there are any delays and keep you updated. Reports by professionals may have to be done based on existing knowledge of a child , perhaps with some assessment by phone or video link. You and your child should still be actively involved in the process.

Educational Psychologists and Children’s Integrated Therapy and Equipment Service (CITES) therapists are continuing to assess children, where possible seeing children directly, either in their home, in schools (if they are attending) by pre-arrangement or in clinics. Where this is not been possible, assessment is being carried out from a range of sources such as phone calls and evidence from the school. Reports, statutory assessments and EHCPs being drawn up during Covid-19 are annotated to document that this was the case. This will be helpful once life returns to normal if you realise you want to review advice and provision in EHCPs written in the current situation.

The Inclusion Multi-Agency Resource Panel (IMARP) is following its usual timetable.

Changes to educational provision for children with SEND during coronavirus
The government passed the Coronavirus Act in response to the outbreak. This gave them the power to relax some of the law around EHCPs and between April and August 2020 they activated these powers. But this has now ended and your child’s usual rights have been restored.  This means the normal duties to provide what it says in an EHC Plan are back in force now.

Realistically, things are very challenging at the moment for schools and colleges. The changes schools are having to make to be covid-safe will affect how they support your child. For example, schools may need to use their staff (including teaching assistants) differently from usual and there will be more issues when staff are sick or have to self-isolate.  But the usual law and guidance about meeting the needs of children with SEND (on SEN Support or with EHC plans) all apply, so you can expect your child to get extra support in some form that matches their needs. Specialist teachers, therapists, clinicians and other support staff for pupils with SEND should be able to provide advice and some interventions.

Our advice is to ask how all this will work for your child. Be flexible, but if your child has an EHC plan, the provision set out in that should be delivered in some form. Any changes to provision you agree are only temporaryThe government guidance was clear that parents who consented to changes to, or reductions in, their child’s provision during the coronavirus outbreak will not be considered to have agreed a permanent change to what their child needs in their EHC plan.

Annual reviews of EHCPs
The Coronavirus Emergency legislation gave LAs and schools some flexibility on the deadlines for annual reviews. This relaxation of the rules ended on 25 September 2020 and annual reviews should now happen on the usual timetable, but you should expect that telephone and video conferencing will continue to be the main way reviews happen. If you feel there is an urgent need to amend the provision or placement in your child or young person’s EHC plan, speak to the school and the LA about this to see if their normal annual review can be prioritised. If not, you can formally request an early or ’emergency’ review. .

Appeals and mediation

SEND mediation during coronavrius
Mediation is continuing but face to face meetings have been replaced by video conferencing. Feedback from parents who have had a mediation in this way has been positive.
Appeals to the SEND Tribunal during coronavrius
Tribunals are going ahead during the coronavirus period. SEND Tribunal hearings are being carried out on paper (if all parties agree) or by telephone or video call. Feedback from people who have had a video call hearing is that it works fairly well. If you have a hearing coming up the tribunal service will contact you to make arrangements.  The Tribunal have asked parties not to call them until 2 days before hearings if they haven’t heard anything as, like every public service, they are affected by staff shortages as a result of COVID-19.

Since 30 March 2020, appeals and claims have been prioritised by the judiciary and consideration given to the use of additional approaches including triaging of cases to ensure that decisions are made proportionately.  With these measures, it is expected that there should be no need to adjourn hearings if the parties are ready to go ahead, even though they may not be able to take place in person. For new appeals, timescales and priorities have changed in the light of the current emergency. Any new appeals are now going to be listed on a 20-week timetable, unless it is about a phase transfer, which will be 12-14 weeks. And timescales to comply with tribunal decisions have also been relaxed.

The National Trial, which extends the power of the First-tier Tribunal (SEND) to look at health and social care within an EHCP, is continuing and has recently been extended until at least 31 August 2021. The trial allows the tribunal to make non-binding recommendations on the health and social care aspects of EHC plans as part of a special educational appeal, . These recommendations need to be considered in the usual way by the responsible health and social care bodies and, where agreed, included in the final EHC plan.

You can find further guidance on how telephone and video hearings are being used during the COVID-19 outbreak here

IPSEA also have helpful information and tips

The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO)
The LGO stopped taking any new cases at the start of the coronavirus crisis bur restarted from Monday 29 June.
Admissions appeals
Appeals about admissions are still possible, for example about the primary school or secondary school your child has been allocated. The rules have been changed temporarily so that these appeals don’t have to take place in person. They can be by telephone, video conference or through a paper-based appeal where all parties can make representations in writing. Deadlines have been made more flexible, but appeals must be heard as soon as reasonably practicable.

Home schooling

Advice and resources on home schooling
When most children went back to school last September parents were able to stop home schooling unless this is something they do from choice. Then in January 2021 many parents had to pick up home learning again. For the very small group of children still shielding this continues for the time being. As we have said above, your child’s school should be providing materials and online sessions or calls to help your child learn. If you are on a low income they may be able to apply for additional mobile data for your child or even a lap top or tablet. As a parent there is only so much you can do to teach your child at home, especially if you also have to work or look after other children. If you want advice and ideas you may want to look at the Government guidance for parents about supporting your child with education at home which has advice and links to resources to use. It includes a SEND section and SEND specific resources
Home education and home tuition
If the experience of educating your child at home has been a success for them and for you, it is possible that you might consider continuing with this long term. If your child struggles to return to school after this lockdown it may be wise not to rush into a decision either way. Schools should not push you towards taking your child off the school roll unless you are making a positive and well-informed choice to do so.

If your child has an EHC plan and, for whatever reason, you feel they could be better off remaining at home for the longer term, you have two options and it is important to understand the difference between them. Choosing to educate your child yourself at home is known as elective home education (EHE). The other is education otherwise than in a setting (EOTAS). This can be home tuition because they are too ill to attend school at the moment or a bespoke package because school provision is not appropriate for them.

If you choose to electively home educate a child with an EHC plan, your LA is likely to say that you are making your own arrangements for the child’s education, and so will no longer be obliged to make any of the provision in your child’s EHC plan. The alternative is asking for your child’s EHC plan to be amended to set out EOTAS rather than naming a school. If you want this, you can ask for the EHC plan to be amended through the annual review process. If the LA does not agree, you could appeal to the SEND Tribunal. However, EOTAS can only be set out in an EHC plan where it can be demonstrated that it would be “inappropriate” for the provision to be made in a school so this is not a quick and easy option to pursue.

If your child doesn’t have an EHC plan it is likely that the only option would be elective home education. But if your child is too ill to attend, and this can apply to some children who are school refusing due to severe anxiety, they may be covered by the legal duty on local authorities to “secure suitable, full-time alternative education for those children of compulsory school age who, by reason of illness, exclusion or otherwise, may not for any period receive suitable education unless such arrangements are made for them”.  Speak to your school and ask SENDIASS for advice if you are in this position.

If you are thinking about home educating this you might start by reading the information on home education  from SENDIASS.

If your child is missing school because the school says they can’t meet their needs, contact SENDIASS for advice and (if they have an EHCP) their APO or Casework Officer.

Further information on education issues and COVID-19

Brighton & Hoveschool age children with SEN

Brighton & Hove City Council have information about how their services are being affected on their website. Visit https://new.brighton-hove.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19

There is more information specifically about SEND services in Brighton & Hove here.

Or read the the coronavirus help directory for Brighton & Hove.

East Sussex

If you use Facebook, go to https://www.facebook.com/ISENDEastSussex/ and “like” it to get useful updates from ISEND. They are sharing lots of ideas and resources on the East Sussex Local Offer too.

There is a central ESCC contact point for all queries relating to Children’s Services and provision in the current difficult situation. Email cs.customerrelations@eastsussex.gov.uk or call 0345 60 80 192 (10am-3pm) and they will try to get back to you or pass it on to the right service to do so.

East Sussex County Council also have information about how council services are being affected on their website.

National

If you can’t get find out what you need to know locally, the Department for Education has set up a helpline to answer questions about COVID-19 related to education. Staff, parents and young people can contact the helpline as follows:

Phone: 0800 046 8687

Email: DfE.coronavirushelpline@education.gov.uk

Opening hours: 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday

There is a support service for Black, Asian and minority ethnic children, young people and their families affected by Covid-19.

  • This is a UK-wide helpline which is focussed on issues specifically affecting children, young people and families from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities who have been hardest hit by the pandemic.
  • There is a free telephone helpline 0800 1512 605 and web chat facility for children, young people and families from these communities who are suffering the long-lasting and wide-ranging impact of Covid-19.
  • Barnardo’s specialist advisors will aim to provide on-going support on a complex range of issues including mental health, bereavement, family break-down, neglect, back to school, parenting advice, counselling, family stress, discrimination, barriers to services and more.
  • You can find out more about the helpline here.

resources

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