Should SEND children have right to home school support?

Derren Hayes
Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Surveys of parents have revealed that some children with special education needs and disabilities benefited from being educated at home during the pandemic, with reductions in stress and anxiety.

One-to-one education at home gave parents an insight into how their child learns and the support they need. Picture: Mediteraneo/Adobe Stock
One-to-one education at home gave parents an insight into how their child learns and the support they need. Picture: Mediteraneo/Adobe Stock

Flexible approach to schooling
By Dr Jacqui Shepherd, lecturer in education, and Dr Christina Hancock, lecturer in primary education

All children with or without special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have a right to education – ideally alongside their peers in an inclusive school setting – but where the challenges of this become insurmountable (or temporarily so) what can we do to ensure that those basic human rights of access to education are still met?

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on schools and education for all children not least through school closures and the shift to home learning. Children with SEND are already a vulnerable group in the education system, often requiring specialist teaching and support, and most only had limited access to this provision during the lockdown. For some children the removal of the pressures of performative expectations and social interactions was beneficial and for some parents a more flexible approach to learning is desirable as we move forward after the pandemic. Equally, we have to remember that for some families, the lack of regular and routine school provision was very detrimental to their children and has had a huge negative impact on their academic and social progress. This leaves us with the challenge of both continuing to develop the most inclusive and supportive education that we can as well as allowing ways in which more flexible approaches to schooling can be sustained.

In two surveys carried out over the two periods of school lockdown with parent carers of children with SEND, it was reported that most of the children in the survey felt less stressed and anxious while at home during lockdown, they particularly cited the following positive experiences:

  • Being with family – parent carers and siblings (and sometimes extended family); having one-to-one time; being safe and happy at home “in their happy place”.

  • Being away from the social pressure of school – less anxiety, not having to deal with bullies and not being left out of friendship groups.

  • Greater flexibility – setting their own routines, not having to wear school uniform, able to have breaks when needed.

  • Pursuing own interests – more physical exercise, gardening, cooking, crafts, play, art, housework, playing board games, while some enjoyed independent and/or online learning.

As a result of this, some parent carers were very concerned about the return to full-time schooling and whether their children would be able to manage it: “I cannot see her going back to school without huge issues. She has said she never wants to go back.”

Others are hopeful for a more flexible approach to education as we move forward including both home and online learning as well as sufficient time to adjust to in-class learning. Parent carers have clearly identified some positive aspects of their home learning experiences that might easily be adapted and included to transform learning. Through greater flexibility in transitions and learning opportunities we can support the diverse needs of children and make a significant difference to those with children with SEND but to many other children too.

As one parent carer in the survey said: “Going forward, a mix of home and in-school learning would work really well as a long-term solution but this doesn’t fit with government policy of everyone in every day. Fining parents for anxious children is not the answer and makes anxiety increase.”

Home learning can aid pupil engagement
By Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary, National Education Union

Exclusions, and who is excluded, tell a story about the inequalities in our education system. Disproportionate numbers of SEND pupils are excluded or managed out of mainstream schools every year and with continual cuts to funding and the consequent support staff redundancies we are moving further away rather than closer to an inclusive education system.

In the period of recovery following the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Department for Education should be taking an approach which is more clearly focused on wellbeing and support for student mental health rather than looking at sanctions, discipline and punitive responses to student behaviour.

In 2020, the National Education Union carried out research with the Institute of Education at UCL that found that schools which used a “belonging approach” had fewer exclusions, improved behaviour, better staff retention and improved academic outcomes.

It is unacceptable for the disproportionate exclusions of SEND students to continue. Reviewing the DfE behaviour and exclusions advice, alongside the planned and long-awaited SEND Review provides an ideal opportunity for the government to boost support for schools. We need a more inclusive system which takes a more holistic, whole-child approach towards behaviour support.

To achieve this, we think the government will need to:

  • Ensure timely access to SEND assessment and diagnosis through increased funding in the system. It would cost £2bn to restore the value of an EHCP to its 2015/16 value.

  • Fund child and adolescent mental health services properly so that children and young people can be seen quickly at the time of most need and schools can signpost with confidence that a student will receive mental health support.

  • Create a high-quality training offer around SEND and behaviour within the Early Career Framework and ensure schools have the time and capacity for regular behaviour/SEND continuous professional development for all classroom-based staff.

  • Allow schools flexibility around the curriculum offer for SEND students and reduce assessment pressures.

  • Ensure funding levels allow schools to maintain and increase support staff and pastoral staff.

  • Support Sencos (special educational needs co-ordinators) by considering the recommendations of the National Senco workload survey.

For some SEND students who welcomed the lockdown and home learning as a relief from the school environment, which they find traumatic and damaging to their mental health, the government’s current approach to absence recording and monitoring will drive them from the system rather than encouraging them back into it.

With blended learning approaches set up in most schools now, consideration should be made of ways in which home learning can be used to support SEND students who are unable to physically attend school for SEND/mental health reasons.

Offering a temporary home-learning option to students, rather than forcing them into the school building or threatening their parents with legal action, would allow the student and their family to remain engaged with school, not fall as far behind with school work, and access necessary and timely therapies and support. It would allow these students to remain included in the system rather than excluded from it.

Person-centred planning is key to success
By Zoe Mather, education officer within Nasen’s education team

Choosing to home educate is not to be taken lightly and, as parents and carers found out in successive lockdowns, such a decision has its challenges and rewards.

Anxiety around inadvertently breaking rules, coping with unstructured social interaction and high levels of academic demand, can all combine to make school a challenging place however these barriers can be overcome when schools develop an inclusive ethos and culture; one that provides an environment that accommodates neuro and physical diversity, celebrates difference, and accepts there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to education.

The Senco (special educational needs co-ordinator) has a key role in this, ensuring that every decision is seen through a SEND lens. Being part of the senior leadership team helps to facilitate this. The recent government survey on behaviour is a case in point. Undesirable behaviour can be communication driven by an unmet need. If we could meet the needs of these children, then the behaviour which is disrupting their learning and potentially the learning of others, can be addressed.

During the pandemic some parents and carers found that not having to be educated in large classes, in a busy school environment, helped their child with their anxiety and enabled more effective learning. Utilising person-centred planning and all the options available, such as flexible timetables and bespoke learning packages, could help children access the support they need within schools and provide the flexibility needed to work in an environment that suits them best.

School can be the best place for pupils. It provides them with the opportunity to develop holistic life skills, such as empathy and social interaction, if managed in a way that accommodates the sensory and social needs of all pupils and accepts that for some pupils this will need targeted support.

During lockdown, some parents and carers also expressed that having to educate their child on a one-to-one basis gave them a true insight into how their child learns and an appreciation of what they can provide to support them. It also gave us as educationalists a chance to remind parents and carers that not all learning is academic and that developing their child holistically was equally valid.

In addition, a large body of academic support grew for all levels of education. One such example, Oak National Academy, was free to all and developed learning for students of every level.

Working with parents and carers to support their decisions and providing signposting to appropriate support, can form part of the offer for everyone; those who choose to electively home educate and those who want to support their child alongside an educational setting. If schools are truly providing the environment that responds to the holistic needs of pupils, this should not be necessary, however for those parents and carers that choose home education, the least we can do is provide guidance to where support is available.

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