Special needs pupils in England ‘pushed to one side’ in Covid crisis


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Children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send) in England have had their education “pushed to one side” during the course of the pandemic “for the convenience of the majority,” according to a survey of parents.

The poll of more than 1,000 parents uncovered “widespread failure” to restore special educational needs provision when children returned to school in September 2020, with a “sizeable” number of Send children unable to return to school at all.

Although children with education, health and care plans (EHCPs) – legally binding documents that entitle them to additional vital support – are among those eligible to attend school during lockdown, fewer than two in five were in school last week.

In some cases, parents said, risk assessments carried out prior to allowing children back on site had been used to “filter attendance” and prevent some Send children from returning to school, while 8% of those who took part in the poll said they had no placement to send their child back to.

The survey conducted by Special Needs Jungle, a parent-led campaign group, found therapies normally delivered by NHS staff, including speech and language therapy and occupational therapy, were particularly badly affected, with many still not back in place last term.

Almost two-thirds of parents of pupils with EHCPs reported that their child’s additional provision had not been fully restored, while fewer than one in five confirmed that all provision had been fully restored.

“Given that schools have been allocated funding to carry out these interventions, and there is an absolute legal duty for local authorities to ensure that the provision in EHCPs is delivered, we believe the failure in delivering it should be investigated at a national level,” the survey’s authors said.

Provision was worse for Send children without an EHCP – just 8% of parents said all their child’s special educational needs support was back in place, while almost three-quarters said some or all of their child’s Send support had been withdrawn, including vital teaching assistant support.

The poll was published just days before the prime minister, Boris Johnson, was due to give details about how and when schools will fully reopen as lockdown restrictions are lifted. The outgoing children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said: “Every child has a right to an education, and every child with Send has a right to receive the help and support they need.

“Some have fallen out of sight during the lockdown, and it is vital that, as schools begin to fully reopen, local authorities and settings have plans in place so that all children with Send can return as quickly as possible.”

After the cancellation of GCSEs and A-levels in England for the second year running, the government is also due to unveil its plans for summer assessments next week, but there are fears that more than 300,000 Send students could be adversely affected by the new arrangements.

The National Deaf Children’s Society, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), the Professional Association of the Vision Impairment Education Workforce and the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf have joined forces to raise awareness of the potential unfairness of the emergency arrangements.

In normal times, students with Send are allowed adjustments including extra time or rephrased questions for exams, so they can perform to their full potential. If assessments are based on past performance, however, campaigners say students risk being assessed without the adjustments they would normally get in formal exams, which could result in lower grades.

Caireen Sutherland, the principal education officer at RNIB, said: “Young people with vision impairment must be given the same opportunity as their sighted peers to achieve the grades they deserve.

“These results could affect their lives for years to come, so it’s vital that accessibility arrangements and the views of specialists are taken into account when these grading decisions are made.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We know the impact of being out of education can be greatest on vulnerable children and young people, including those with education, health and care plans. That’s why schools should continue to welcome vulnerable children and young people to attend where possible.

“For pupils with special educational needs and disabilities who cannot attend, schools should ensure those pupils are able to access remote education alongside their peers.”

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