Children with SEND need the option to stay in school during lockdown
Education experts are calling on the Government to ensure that all children with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) be given the opportunity to continue their education at school rather than online during the current lockdown where safe to do so.
Dr Jacqui Shepherd and Dr Christina Hancock at the University of Sussex say research they carried out during the first lockdown indicates a strong preference among many parents for children with SEND to be allowed to continue to go to school in any subsequent lockdown.
Currently, pupils with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan meet the Government criteria for “vulnerable children” permitted to access schools or educational settings during the second national lockdown.
But only around a quarter of children with SEND have an EHC plan, meaning the government’s current criteria excludes thousands of pupils who might benefit from retaining the routine of regular school attendance.
Many other children with SEND are also being given no choice but to accept home schooling because the special schools they attend are not able to accommodate all pupils because of disruption brought about by Covid.
Dr Shepherd, Lecturer in Education at the University of Sussex, said: “In our survey very few of the respondents said their child had been in school during the first national lockdown.
“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.”
Dr Christina Hancock, Lecturer in Primary Education at the University of Sussex, said: “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.”
More than 500 parent carers of children with SEND from all regions of the UK responded to the University of Sussex survey in the summer detailing their educational experiences during the first lockdown.
The answers to one of the questions in the survey, what could be done differently to support your child if schools were closed again in response to a second wave of infections, are now being made public for the first time by the academics in the hope they will help shape a better educational experience for children with SEND in this current lockdown.
Parents particularly called for schools to improve their provision by personalising learning more specifically for children with SEND – as they would have done in school. Measures suggested include increasing interactive learning, opportunities for one-to-one support, continuing therapy sessions whenever possible and increasing opportunities for pupils to see their teachers and classmates online.
Parents also called for a reduction in the pressure and expectation to complete tasks set and an increased focus instead on individual’s wellbeing.
Survey respondents also wanted to see much greater preparation and advanced notice of what to expect from lockdown teaching provision including a crisis plan, pre-arranged bubbles, draft timetables and planned home schooling curriculum in the event of a second lockdown.
Dr Shepherd said: “We appreciate that this lockdown, at very short notice, has created enormous disruption for teachers and schools and, it is important to note that many parents in the survey were extremely positive about the support they had received during the first lockdown and felt that their children had been supported well.
“Schools will have learned lessons from the first lockdown and have taken steps to increase support to those who may have felt missed out in the spring and summer.
“There are certainly some excellent recommendations made by parents in our survey about how schools can support pupils during this difficult time particularly around good planning and effective communication with parents in the early days of adjusted teaching routines that should be set into action now.”