Give all SEND pupils option to stay in school despite lockdown, experts urge

Joe Lepper
Wednesday, January 13, 2021

All pupils with a special educational need or disability (SEND) should be given the option to stay in school during the current lockdown, according to education experts.

Current guidelines only allow for a quarter of children with SEND to attend mainstream school. Picture: Adobe Stock
Current guidelines only allow for a quarter of children with SEND to attend mainstream school. Picture: Adobe Stock

Current government guidelines only allow for a quarter of SEND children, those with an education, health and care plan (EHCP), to continue attending school.

But education academics want all SEND children to be given the option, as they find the disruption to their regular schooling amid lockdown more difficult than their peers.

The call has come from education academics at University of Sussex, Dr Jacqui Shepherd and Dr Christina Hancock, and following research they carried out into the impact of lockdown on children with SEND and their families.

One parent said her SEND daughter “must be allowed to keep going” to school. Another said they wanted recognition that their son “is vulnerable and have him in school at least part time”.

A key factor is parents concerns that schools are not supporting SEND children as effectively online as their mainstream peers.

Schools need “to 'see' children with special needs,” said a parent with a daughter with SEND and a non-SEND son.

“While my other (mainstream) child had a comprehensive education via Google classrooms, my daughter received the occasional worksheet by post. It was wholly unacceptable. She should have received something on par with what my son received, and that was suited to her special educational needs.”

More than 500 parents and carers of children with SEND took part in the research, which took place last summer following the initial Covid-19 lockdown. A focus was on what schools could do better in subsequent lockdowns.

Unlike the first Covid-19 lockdown, government guidelines state that special schools may stay open for all pupils this time around.

Personalised learning, suited to children with SEND’s individual needs, was among recommendations made by parents.

“In our survey very few of the respondents said their child had been in school during the first national lockdown,” said Shephard.

“The government needs to broaden the criteria restricting which pupils are able to continue accessing schools if they wish to maintain pupils’ wellbeing and educational attainment during the weeks of lockdown ahead. 

“We appreciate there are enormous challenges for schools and teachers in balancing face-to-face and online teaching and having large numbers of children in classrooms is undesirable in the current climate. But children with SEND need to be high up on the priority list of the small minority of children allowed to attend school for at least part of the school week.”

Hancock added: “Our survey results indicate that some children with SEND will benefit enormously from having the option of retaining their routine of going to school.

“But all children with SEND would benefit if schools can take action to ensure they are seen and that steps have been taken to provide them with personalised online and home learning that meets their specific needs."

Earlier this month shadow children’s minister Tulip Siddiq called on ministers to ensure vulnerable pupils, including those with SEND, are supported during lockdown.

The government has changed its guidance on children who can attend school during lockdown, amid concerns from head teachers that capacity in some schools was as high as 70 per cent.

 

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