There has been much in the media about the impact of the pandemic and the government response on children’s education, but arguably that impact has been magnified for those children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).
The Coronavirus Act 2020
The Coronavirus Act 2020 temporarily amended and extended deadlines for certain Local Authority duties towards children with SEND under The Children and Families Act 2014. These temporary amendments have now come to an end, but their impact is still being felt by children and their families. Children and Families Act 2014. are still catching up on work missed during the height of the pandemic, including annual reviews and in some cases drafting of Education, Health and Care Plans.
The Local Authority can no longer rely on these Coronavirus Act extensions for any delays from now on, including carrying out an annual review, ensuring access to the educational placement named in an Education, Health and Care Plan or arranging and maintaining all provision in Section F of an Education, Health and Care Plan.
Different ways of working virtually have proved successful
During the lockdowns, and time out of school, many children and young people with Education, Health and Care Plans received at least some of their special educational provision virtually. An example is therapy provision, where face-to-face appointments were not possible nor was the therapist’s attendance in school. A ‘work around’ had to be found to ensure these children and young people did not miss out on required provision.
For some this method has been so successful that it continues, and it can be particularly helpful where there are staff shortages where time is effectively wasted travelling to each school or appointment. For those children and young people who require therapeutic provision face-to-face, this must continue.
Annual review meetings have been taking place virtually online, which in many cases has allowed more attendees to be present and contribute. Most of the families that we work with, and review attendees have agreed that being held virtually has been beneficial and they would welcome this remaining.
Research and Publications
There has been much research carried out by a variety of agencies and organisations, including the BBC and National Children’s Bureau. All are broadly similar in their findings that the issues for children and young people with SEND have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
In June 2021 Ofsted published a report titled SEND: old issues, new issues, next steps. Ofsted found that “long-standing problems in the system of care for children and young people with SEND have been made even worse by the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Part of the ‘Making Participation Work’ programme (funded by the Department for Education jointly delivered by Council for Disabled Children and Kids) consisted of the commissioning of an England-wide consultation with children and young people with SEND regarding the impact of the pandemic and lockdowns. This took place between February and March 2021 and concluded that “the experiences that children, young people, parents and carers have highlighted through this report clearly communicates the difficulties, pain, anxiety and stress of the last year”.
However, there were some positives identified in the research, including smaller class sizes, time to consolidate and the ability to be flexible. In order for the positives to remain, there needs to be a commitment from politicians and those working within the SEND field, as well as adequate funding.
Repeating a year
There are some children and young people for whom an additional year in education is requested to help address the lack of education received during the pandemic and lockdowns. Although there is no automatic right for children and young people with SEND to be educated out of their chronological year group (or repeat a year) it is possible, should it be required.
If such a special educational provision arrangement is required, then it should be detailed as such in Section F of an Education, Health and Care Plan. Ideally a family will have evidence of the requirement or recommendation to support such a request, for example from an Educational Psychologist.
In June the Government stated that providers of 16-19 education would have the option to offer their students in year 13 the opportunity to repeat up to one year if they had been severely affected by the pandemic.
For children and young people with Education, Health and Care Plans the option to repeat a year should have been discussed at the annual review.
Undoubtedly the time out of school, away from much special educational provision and without a peer group, has put children and young people with SEND at a disadvantage. There is also a concern for families of whether this autumn and winter will bring further challenges, for example with pupils or staff being required to self-isolate or staff shortages due to Covid.
It is now more important than ever for young people and their families to be fully informed of their legal rights in relation to Special Educational Needs, including Education, Health and Care Plans and access to education. It is also evident that it will be increasingly necessary to challenge Local Authorities, so seeking advice from an expert legal team will be also be vital in assuring access to education.