Three quarters of schools struggling to support SEND children during Covid lockdown

Joe Lepper
Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Schools are finding it increasingly difficult to support pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) amid the Covid-19 health crisis, research has found.

Researchers are calling for 'priority support' for SENCOs. Picture: Adobe Stock
Researchers are calling for 'priority support' for SENCOs. Picture: Adobe Stock

Among special educational needs coordinators (SENCOs), almost three quarters (72 per cent) felt their schools had experienced challenges in providing support to children with education, health and care plans (EHCP) during lockdown.

Increased workload and a lack of support are factors in SENCOs’ concerns, according to the research by Bath Spa University and the National Association for Special Education Needs (Nasen).

The National SENCO Workforce Survey 2020 found that SENCOs have been faced with extra management tasks and paperwork in areas such as  safeguarding, risk assessments and responding to “changing national guidance”.

More than half (57 per cent) find the management of risk assessments a challenge and only one in ten said they were happy with the support they have received during the pandemic.

Just under two thirds (64 per cent) of SENCOs would welcome more support and guidance from government.

Other recommendations include better access to online learning and support, to help teachers support pupils with a SEND.

Good practice by schools in supporting SEND pupils during lockdown should be widely shared. In addition, school leaders are being urged to work more closely with families in supporting pupils.

The workforce survey “exposes some of the hidden challenges that continue to perpetuate inequalities impacting children and young people with SEND and their families”, said Nasen chief executive Adam Boddison.

He is calling for a greater focus on the mental health of SENCOs and children with special needs amid the pandemic.

“The pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on children and young people’s social, emotional and mental health needs, exacerbating social interaction challenges. It is vital that we support them and the mental wellbeing of our education workforce.

“We would like to see routine wellbeing arrangements put in place following this extended period of national challenge, including priority support for SENCOs,” he said.

Bath Spa lecturer Helen Curran added: “We know that schools have worked tirelessly to support young people during the pandemic, facing daily challenges, difficult decisions and changing national guidance.

"As we get to grips with a third lockdown and return to remote learning, there is a real risk that children with SEND will continue to be disproportionally impacted by the pandemic, unless teachers, SENCOs and pupils are given additional support in areas like providing appropriate and differentiated virtual learning.”

The report adds that the move to online learning had created some “positive experiences” for some SEND children, “including a reduction in social communication and interaction anxieties”.

Most SENCOs (84 per cent) said pupils had improved their communication with parents and families.

Earlier this month education experts at the University of Sussex said all SEND pupils should be given the option to stay in school despite lockdown. Current guidelines allow a quarter of SEND children, those with an EHCP, to attend school. This should be extended to the three quarters of pupils with special needs who do not have a plan, according to the university.

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