As we approach the milestone of one year since the country went into its first lock-down due to the global pandemic I thought it would be useful to consider what this has meant for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities.
As everyone working within the education sector knows, schools never closed. They have been open throughout for vulnerable pupils and in many schools, this included some of those with SEND.
However, there will also be groups of pupils who have not set foot inside a school for the full year, those who are extremely clinically vulnerable or those who require aerosol generated procedures being just two of these groups.
All pupils should have been accessing remote learning when at home, but some may have had difficulty with this due to lack of technology, inaccessible content, a home environment not conducive to learning or simply lack of motivation.
Over the last few months there has been a great deal of press coverage about how children and young people have “fallen behind” over the last year and how they are going to need to “catch-up” when schools fully re-open.
Back in September 2020 the National Foundation for Educational Research’s (NFER) survey found that overall, teachers said they had covered just 66% of their usual curriculum by July, putting pupils three months behind in their learning.
At the same time the Education Policy Institute Annual Report highlighted several strong indications that the overall gap between rich and poor primary age pupils in England has started to widen.
In the last two months we have seen headlines such as:
“Pupils face falling behind because they can’t access online learning” – Independent – 4th January
“Youngest pupils in England worst affected by COVID learning loss” – Guardian – 12th February
“Poorer pupils without materials will be falling behind their peers in lockdown” – Mirror – 27th January
“Poorer pupils falling behind during lockdown” – Times – 21st January
The Government’s answer to this was the announcement in June 2020 of £1 billion of “catch-up premium for all pupils of which £650 million went directly to schools and £350 million to support a tutoring programme. There was very little guidance or direction for schools on how the funding should be spent and initially it appeared that there would be limited accountability. It was five months later when the DfE added accountability information stating that scrutiny by Governors, Trustees and Ofsted would take place to ensure appropriate transparency of the spending of this additional funding.
Although all schools fully opened in September many have not yet had time to consider the longer-term plans for this additional funding and how it will be used effectively to meet the individual needs of their children and young people.
This is especially true for those pupils who did not return to full-time, in-school education in September for a variety of reasons. Not only will these pupils have missed out on education alongside their peers (hopefully they will all have accessed some remote learning) but these pupils will also have had limited additional and/or different support as outlined in their SEN Support Plan or in Section F of their Education, Health and Care Plan.
Special Needs Jungle have recently published the findings from their COVID-19 and SEND Education Survey which was designed to find out whether children and young people with SEND had their provision back in the first half of the autumn term.
- Nearly two-thirds of parents/carers of learners with EHCPs reported that their child’s legally binding provision had not been fully restored
- NHS-delivered therapies such as speech and language, occupational therapy, and hydrotherapy were all areas where parents were most likely to report that no legally-binding provision had been restored.
- For those children on SEN Support, without an EHCP, just 8% of parents/carers confirmed all the special educational needs support their child had prior to the spring lockdown in 2020 was now back in place. Almost three-quarters of these said some or all of their child’s SEND support had been withdrawn – not just therapies, but also large quantities of teaching assistant support.
The question we all need to consider now is how do we know what impact the global pandemic has had on the children and young people with SEND. Like their peers they have missed out on a great deal of school-life, not just the teaching and learning but friendships, play, safety, security and support for their mental health and wellbeing. In addition, they may have missed out an all the additional provision put in place to support their individual needs.
When considering “catch-up” schools need to consider exactly what it is that each individual pupil is going to need to support their on-going development. For many this may well be additional English and maths either through interventions or additional tutoring but for some it will mean engaging with other professionals to ensure that the wider aspects of their provision are met. This might be additional speech and language therapy, occupational therapy or physical therapy. It might mean allotting some time for art, music, drama therapy or additional support for mental health and wellbeing.
This will not be provided through educational tutors or untrained staff in school. Schools may need to invest some of their “catch-up premium” in external providers to ensure that all their pupils receive the additional support that they may need once schools fully re-open.
I would suggest that until all our children and young people are fully integrated back into our schools, we really have no idea what they have “missed” and therefore it is really difficult at the moment to assess what does “catch-up” look like for the majority of our pupils.
Please take a holistic approach to “catch-up” and consider all the pupil’s individual needs and have a clear view of what each child might have missed during the last twelve months before deciding on what additional provision they might need.
Schools’ responses to Covid-19 The challenges facing schools and pupils in September 2020 – NFER
Education in England: Annual Report 2020 – Education Policy Institute
Special Needs Jungle A=COVID-19 & SEND Education Survey – February 2021 – Special Needs Jungle