On Monday, the government announced the full reopening of schools on the 8th March for all children and young people. A large amount of guidance was issued to support the re-opening which we shared earlier this week. All the latest Govt. guidance in one place – National Network of Parent Carer Forums C.I.C (nnpcf.org.uk)
Parent carer forums have a critical role to play over the coming weeks
The guidance covers many of the points that we have raised with the Department for Education and NHSE over the past 12 months of the coronavirus crisis. As schools return, we know that many local areas, schools and health providers will interpret and implement this guidance in different ways, many of which may disadvantage children with SEND. As such, the role that parent carer forums play in observing, reporting and escalating local practice will be critically important.
The NNPCF are calling for three key things over the coming weeks:
- Effective, open and honest communication with children and young people (CYP) with SEND and their families. Schools, local authorities and health providers must make sure that they take the time to have proper and meaningful conversations with families.
- Listen to what families have to say and ensure good coproduction with them about the best way of supporting CYP over the coming weeks to ensure that we achieve the best possible outcomes.
- Based on this, make reasonable adjustments to support CYP with SEND and their families to return from lockdown
If parent carer forums have concerns about any area of the implementation of guidance, they should first raise it with their local area or school. If concerns remain then then it should be escalated to their regional NNPCF steering group member and the regional Department for Education SEND lead (and if appropriate regional NHSE leads). We published some information on how to do this recently
We have already raised many of the issues that are most likely to cause concern
- Attendance – attendance at school is mandatory but we have raised with the DfE that a supportive approach should be taken and families should not be penalised if their child is anxious about a return to school and a slower, more supported return would help. Clinically extremely vulnerable children should be continued to be supported at home with remote education. Many families have reported that remote learning has worked well for their children and in these cases we would encourage coproductive conversations between schools, local authorities and families about the right way forward.
- Behaviour – we have made strong representations to the DfE the need to take a supportive rather than punitive approach to children’s behaviour over this period.
- Covid vaccinations – we need to ensure clarity and equity of covid vaccinations for key groups such as those with learning disabilities, parent carers, school and other staff involved with vulnerable pupils (e.g. transport staff). The guidance is clear that a “no vaccine, no entry” policy is unacceptable. For our recent representations on this topic see Covid 19 Vaccinations and SEND – National Network of Parent Carer Forums C.I.C (nnpcf.org.uk)
- Testing – reasonable adjustments should be made to ensure that reasonable adjustments are made to enable testing, where appropriate, for children and young people with SEND. Again, the guidance is clear that a “no test, no entry” policy is unacceptable.
- Wearing of masks – reasonable adjustments must be made for those children who will not be able to wear face masks
- School transport – we urge clear communication with families and reasonable adjustments to ensure that everyone understand the measures in place to ensure that school transport is safe
- Therapy services and EHCP provision – we continue to hear concerns about access to therapy services and provision outlined in EHCPs for many children. Again, guidance is clear that the provision in EHCPs should be delivered including therapy services in school settings.
- Catch up – We believe that catch up should be holistic and not just academic and be differentiated and accessible to CYP with SEND. You can see more on this here: NNPCF representations on catch-up learning – National Network of Parent Carer Forums C.I.C
- Exams and assessments – The particular challenges faced by SEND pupils must be considered in any assessments that are carried out. See our representations here NNPCF input into assessments consultation – National Network of Parent Carer Forums C.I.C
We are also working on some of the longer term issues that have arisen from the Covid crisis
We know that annual reviews have been delayed for many children, that many families have concerns about their child’s readiness for important transitions that are coming up and, of course, the longer term impacts on mental health and anxiety. We will share more about our work in these and other long term impacts of covid on children and young people with SEND in the coming weeks.