Who could have imagined that as they went on holiday in December, schools would be back in January trying to figure out what they were supposed to be doing?
The requirement to open up testing centres in all schools with secondary aged pupils and the closure of some primaries in London and the South East was the focus for school leaders as the Christmas holidays began – unbelievably two weeks later all schools are closed for all pupils except for critical worker and vulnerable children and young people.
The majority of teachers planned and prepared to deliver face-to-face teaching were told on the first day of the new term that as from the following day they would have to plan and deliver remote education alongside teaching face-to-face in school.
At this point no guidance had been released from the Department of Education (DfE) so school leaders were left to sort this out themselves – and so they did.
By the end of the first week of term schools had set up all their remote learning programmes, organised staffing and communicated with parents alongside providing school meals for those who were eligible, delivering home learning packages and checking in to ensure all those pupils at home were safe and well and had the necessary technology and connectivity to access their learning. (For many this remains a significant issue).
What does this mean for the 1.4 million pupils in our schools who are identified as SEND? All schools have a legal duty to provide additional and or different provision for all those pupils on SEN Support and a legal duty to ensure the provision in section E of the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) is delivered appropriately.
During this third lockdown it would appear that the Government are not going to make any temporary changes to the law as they did last year and therefore all the duties within the Children and Families Act 2014, the SEND Regulations 2014 and the SEND Code of Practice 2015 are fully in place.
Pupils on SEN Support
It is highly likely that the majority of pupils who are on SEN Support in your school are currently being educated at home (unless they are a member of one of the vulnerable groups outlined in DfE guidance). That means that a school is expected to offer the additional and or different provision that they would be offering in-school alongside high-quality differentiated teaching as part of their remote learning package. This might include support from a Teaching Assistant, an opportunity to access an intervention group or specific tools and equipment that offer a reasonable adjustment to support their learning. It might also include input from an external professional like a Speech and Language Therapist or an Occupational Therapist. Integrated Treatment Services have a proven remote working model which settings can easily revert to when appropriate to do so.
The DfE guidance Restricting attendance during the national lockdown: schools published on 7th January states: Schools should ensure that appropriate support is made available for pupils with SEND, for example by deploying teaching assistants and enabling specialist staff from both within and outside the school to work with pupils in different classes or year groups.
Schools must ensure that they are doing everything they can to offer the additional support for this group of pupils. Offering on-line tutorials with Teaching Assistants, additional support from teachers through increased interaction with parents or offering additional tools and equipment that can be delivered to the pupil’s home are possible solutions. If the pupil is unable to access on-line learning due to the lack of equipment or connectivity then I would suggest that you consider having this pupil in school as one of your vulnerable group.
Pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans
All pupils with an Education, Health and Care Plan are listed in the vulnerable group guidance and therefore this means that under the restrictions, they have a right to be in school if this is what their parent wishes. If a parent prefers to keep their child at home, they can do so without being penalised.
I am very aware that many parents have chosen not to send their child into school as they feel they will be safer at home, especially those who have significant medical needs.
I am also aware that many schools have concerns about keeping the numbers in school as low as possible to ensure that the spread of infection is contained. Some schools are also having significant difficulties with staffing and many staff are having to provide both face-to-face and remote learning for their pupils.
However, all schools must ensure that EHCP pupils are receiving both the high-quality provision that they would ordinarily receive when school is fully open plus all the additional support to meet section E of the EHCP.
The last lockdown meant that many pupils with EHCPs were not provided with any of the provision set out in their plan and many missed out on every-day teaching and learning as well. This cannot happen during this third lockdown.
It also has to be remembered that local authorities have the duty to ensure that provision written into section E of an EHCP is met. If a school is struggling to provide this provision under the current circumstances, they must notify their local authority.
The DfE guidance Restricting attendance during the national lockdown: schools states:
Where a pupil has provision specified within their EHC plan, it remains the duty of the local authority and any health bodies to secure or arrange the delivery of this in the setting that the plan names. However, there may be times when it becomes very difficult to do so, for example, if they are self-isolating. In this situation, decisions on how provision can be delivered should be informed by relevant considerations including, for example, the types of services that the pupil can access remotely, for example, online teaching and remote sessions with different types of therapists. These decisions should be considered on a case by case basis, avoiding a one size fits all approach.
Schools need to be doing everything they can to meet the pupils needs. This may be by offering their one to one support remotely via an on-line platform, it might be ensuring that the work that is set is differentiated to meet the pupils needs and support and equipment for parents to help their child are offered and it might be a regular “drop-in” by the class teacher (virtually or as a drop-in on the home door-step).
In terms of support from external therapists, if this cannot be carried out in school then this should be offered remotely or within the home. If the service that you normally use is not offering support at the current time then schools can look to commission those services from other sources such as privately or through an agency. If available, the EHCP top-up funding can be used for this. Integrated Treatment Services have been working with settings to bridge any gap in service you may have whether that be on a temporary or permanent basis. They can tell you more if you contact them here.
Schools may also want to use some of their COVID Catch-up Premium to engage additional support from external specialists especially if you feel this will benefit the pupil, even if not stated in the EHCP.
For all pupils with SEND, their teachers are best-placed to know how the pupil’s needs can be most effectively met to ensure they continue to make progress even if they are not able to be in school due to the current lockdown. Integrated Treatment Service are supporting teachers, staff, parents and students remotely providing training and resources and not just teletherapy provision.
The requirement for schools to use their best endeavours to secure the special educational provision called for by the pupils’ special educational needs remains in place.
Schools should work collaboratively with families and the local authority, putting in place reasonable adjustments as necessary, so that pupils with SEND can successfully access high quality education whether in-school or remotely in the same way as their peers.
I have recently produced a list of resources to support remote learning for pupils with SEND – you will find them on my website.
The Ofsted guidance on remote learning has also recently been published. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/ofsted-publishes-short-guide-to-what-works-well-in-remote-education
Lorraine Petersen OBE