Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford has put out an open letter to all families on the return to school.
Yesterday Minister Vicky Ford released an open letter to Children and Young people with SEND, their families and those who support them.
September 23, 2020
The NNPCF steering group met with Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford to share the feedback from parent carer forums about the return to school for children with SEND.
Ahead of the meeting, parent carer forums continued their outstanding work in listening to the experiences of local families. We heard of concerns around a wide variety of topics including Aerosol Generating Procedures (AGP), over-zealous schools send children with colds home, local and school lockdowns and access to testing.
We attach a briefing document that summarises the issues that was shared with the Minister ahead of our meeting. Return to school feedback 17 09 2020
We had a wide-ranging discussion with the Minister and explored many of the themes in the document. Some of the things we discussed included:
- Concerns around AGP – the Minister reported that she had met with Directors of Children’s Services and urged them to work with local Public Health England to ensure children requiring AGPs can attend school
- Issues around testing – The Minister recognised the experiences of SEND families in accessing testing – she promised to look at some further prioritisation for testing for people with disabilities. She also reported that a new process has recently been created to enable schools to order more tests every few weeks and that teachers have been added to the priority list for testing.
- We discussed the concerns of parents about mandatory attendance at schools in a local lockdown and urged her to continue to share the messages about coproducing with families to find the right answer for their circumstances.
- The DfE had also noted the increase in requests for home schooling – we discussed the risks that families should not be pushed into “elective” home schooling against their wishes and the need for Ofsted to remain vigilant about off-rolling through the back door.
- We discussed some of the challenges around the restoration of health services and the importance of schools allowing therapists in to deliver the support children require.
- We also noted that some of our earlier concerns around behaviour related exclusions and mental health problems had not yet been widely reported. However, we all noted that it was still early days and that the full impact of Covid 19 has not yet been understood or felt in this regard.
We also touched on the ongoing SEND review and agreed to meet with the Minister and the SEND review team in the coming weeks to discuss progress and plans.
On Monday 6th July, NNPCF cochairs Tina Emery and Mrunal Sisodia met with Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford to discuss the feedback from parent carer forums during the Covid 19 pandemic.
The Minister thanked the NNPCF for compiling what she described as the “bubble document” which you can find a copy of here:
She commented that this paper confirmed many of the issues that she had been hearing about through other sources in the SEND system, particularly the difficulties being faced by many families in getting their children with SEND back into schooling.
The main topic of conversation was what the sector needed to do to ensure that children with SEND were able to return to school in September.
- Tina and Mrunal emphasised the importance of clear communication that was based on the science of Covid 19 and its very limited impact on children. We emphasised the need to better explain bubbles and the system of protective measures that schools are being asked to put in place. We told the Minister that the communication needed to come from trusted sources such as the NHS and teachers and therapists.
- We also discussed the challenges that school transport posed for children with SEND. We told the Minister that local areas should coproduce with parents about what transport arrangements worked for them. Our concern is that unless transport is prioritised, many SEND pupils will not be able to return to school.
- The Minister noted Tina’s concern about the clarity of guidance for young people with SEND in further education.
We also raised the SEND review with the Minister and asked her to ensure that, as the country starts to recover from Covid 19, the SEND review gets the appropriate focus. In our view, the Covid pandemic has highlighted and further deepened the gaps in provision and outcomes for children with SEND. We reiterated the key points that we had made in our initial input into the SEND review that you can find here http://www.nnpcf.org.uk/nnpcf-conference-gives-send-review-seven-clear-messages/
Ahead of the release of new guidance on school re-opening, the Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford met with representatives of the SEND sector to thank them for their work.
She singled out the work of parent carer forums for praise in highlighting the way in which risk assessments had been used by some schools to prevent the return of children and young people with SEND.
She also noted the work that the NNPCF and others had done in ensuring that the rights of pupils with SEND had been reflected in the guidance with regards to:
- Support for any behavioural problems
- Support for families to enable attendance
- Ensuring that schools were required to deliver full provision for children with SEND and that the Coronavirus Act easements are lifted as soon as possible
- The challenges that school transport poses during this period (although she recognised that more work needs to be done here)
NNPCF co-chairs Tina Emery and Mrunal Sisodia also raised the need to ensure that schools understood that catch up funding for disadvantaged pupils was made available for SEND and that it should include services used by SEND children such as therapy services and educational psychologists and not just focus on academic catch up. Tina and Mrunal advised the Minister to join up with DMO and DCO forum on this work and raised the need for clearer guidance for those young people with SEND in further education and the growing need for respite services for families who had had no break from caring since March.
NNPCF Steering Group meeting with Vicky Ford, Minister for Children and Families: COVID 19 and what needs to change with the SEND system
On Wednesday 18th March, the NNPCF steering group met with Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford. Because of COVID 19 restrictions, the meeting was a video-conference.
The Minister was keen to talk about the Education response to COVID 19.
Earlier this week, we issued shared the paper we had sent to the Department for Education and NHS England (add link). This was compiled following feedback from forums to regional steering group members and from discussions we have seen on our closed social media groups.
In our meeting with the Minister we re-iterated the key messages in the paper – namely that they could not take a blanket approach to children and young people with special educational needs and emphasised the key points:
- The importance of supporting our families to have choice and control as much as is possible to protect their families in the most appropriate way.
- We relayed the critical role schools/colleges and residential placements can play in some of our children lives and how it would be helpful for some families to continue to access the often vital support this can provide their children.
- Alongside this we also posed the concerns about access to medical support and social care when services are also suffering from limitations of staff and restrictions due to isolations. We are pleased to see the recommendations
- Finally, we urged the Minister to continue to coproduce the government response with the NNPCF
It is clear there is a challenging road ahead, and as we learn more about the pandemic advice will continue to evolve. We feel the best way we can support families is to reiterate to the DfE, NHSE, and Ministers the importance of clear and concise messages. We are pleased to see the recommendations we asked be considered have been heard and have influenced recent government proposals.
The NNPCF are listening to the concerns forums are sharing, both from within your communities and from within the forum itself. We are all impacted by the current situation in a variety of ways and are rightly concerned and trying to ensure our families are kept safe and well during this difficult time. We also recognise there will be ongoing challenges for forums which we are raising with the DfE and Contact. We are continuing to be in contact with the DfE and NHSE, we will keep you informed about what we are saying and hearing.
Please keep on telling us of how the response to COVID 19 is playing out in your areas. You can contact your regional NNPCF steering group member or post something on the NNPCF closed facebook page and we will incorporate it into our dialogue with the DfE and NHSE.
The SEND Review
We also talked to the Minister about our submission to the SEND review (insert link). She had read our paper and was interested in many of the key messages we have given the review.
We gave the Minister real examples of where children and young people were being let down by the system because of the failings we describe in our report. We also shared examples from across the country where the recommendations from our report had been implemented. We showed how coproduction with families does lead to greatly improved services and outcomes. The Minister promised to continue to work with us and keep us informed on the progress of the review.
On Wednesday 26th February, NNPCF Co-chairs Tina Emery and Mrunal Sisodia attended a meeting with the newly appointed Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Children and Families, Vicky Ford.
In our meeting, we covered a lot of ground and shared the views of parent carers on the current state of the SEND across the country and what needs to be changed to improve outcomes and parental confidence in the system. It is encouraging that the new Minister is prioritising SEND in her first full week in the job. We passed on some key messages on behalf of parents and carers:
· We emphasised the importance of listening to the concerns of families and intervening early to stop concerns becoming problems and problems becoming crises.
· We discussed the value of coproduction and how the involvement of parent carers was key to all successful decision making. We urged the Minister to ensure that a wide range of views from parent carers is included in the ongoing SEND review.
· We shared our input into the SEND review and including the key points from our 2019 conference (http://www.nnpcf.org.uk/nnpcf-conference-gives-send-review-seven-clear-messages/)
o Listen to families and intervene early
o Make sure there is enough money and spend it well
o Align incentives for school and system leaders
o Increased accountability
o Right people, right knowledge, right skills
o Lifelong outcomes
· We discussed the work and reach of parent carer forums.
We will continue to work with the Minister and her team and we are in the process of scheduling further meetings with her. We will keep you updated.
Yesterday, NNPCF cochairs met with Children and Families Minister Kemi Badenoch along with Christine Lenehan, Director of the Council for Disabled Children and the chief executives of Contact and KIDS, Amanda Batten and Caroline Stevens. This was one of the few stakeholder meetings the Minister was holding before starting her maternity leave next week. MP Michelle Donelan will be providing maternity cover in the period that the Minister is out of office.
The group discussed the challenges facing the SEND system and described the battles that families have to secure the services and support that they need. Tina and Mrunal introduced the work of parent carer forums and the whole group emphasized the importance of coproduction with parent-carers and children and young people and why joint working across the system is so important.
The group also discussed the “Five years on” review of the SEND system announced by the government this morning. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/major-review-into-support-for-children-with-special-educational-needs?utm_source=d0af7e5c-13ad-49ae-885d-619b30bd5647&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=govuk-notifications&utm_content=immediate
In response to this announcement, NNPCF co-chairs Tina Emery and Mrunal Sisodia made the following statement:
“We are delighted that the government has responded to our calls for a review of the SEND system. Five years on from the Children and Families Act, the aspirations of the reforms have not yet been delivered for far too many children with special educational needs. We need a cross governmental plan of action to address the challenges that our members and our partners in the SEND sector have identified. A co-ordinated approach that puts the voice of families and young people at the heart of decision making is key to making sure that the welcome extra funding announced for SEND is spent effectively.
We look forward to working with the Department for Education and sharing the knowledge and experience of our members to making sure this review delivers what the families of children and young people with SEND need.”
The NNPCF welcomes this review and have been asking the Department for Education for a wholescale, cross governmental plan to address the concerns raised by our membership. We raised this in our meetings with officials in June and in our meeting with Minister Nadhim Zahawi in July. http://www.nnpcf.org.uk/nnpcf-cochairs-meet-with-nadhim-zahawi/
The launch of the review comes in the wake of extra funding for schools and SEND announced by the Department for Education on the 31st of August. The NNPCF welcome the extra money which the NNPCF have been calling for in our last two state of the Nation reports
NNPCF co-chairs Tina Emery and Mrunal Sisodia said,
“The extra money announced is essential to making sure our children get the support and opportunities they need. However, money alone will not address the concerns highlighted by our membership in our State of the Nation reports. For this, we need a joined-up plan across Education, Health and Social Care that puts coproduction at the heart of all decision making.”