With new national lockdown measures announced at 8pm on Monday 4th January we felt it appropriate to update our member Parent Carer Forums, and their communities, on what we can now do in this current climate to promote best practice locally and continue to champion coproduction and person centre approaches.
The NNPCF Steering Group have compiled the below document to share our current thoughts and provide clarity on where we will continue to share Parent Carer Forums experiences and insights to inform and influence national policy and decision making moving forward.
11 Jan – face to face education for exam years and vulnerable and critical worker children and remote learning for other secondary school and college years
18 Jan – secondary school and college students return for face-to-face education
All pupils in special schools are able to attend from the week commencing 4 January. There is some limited flexibility to stagger returns in these settings where it is necessary to allow special schools to prepare for testing to begin from 11 January.
All vulnerable children in secondary schools will have a place from 4th January
In some areas all children of primary age will receive a remote education – for a list of these areas see the DfE guidance. We are seeking clarification of whether this includes vulnerable children and children of key workers.
Wearing of masks will be required in school for children in year 7 onwards. We are seeking clarification of exceptions for children for whom this may be difficult or impossible and reasonable adjustments may be required.
We are also seeking clarification of whether it will be mandatory for vulnerable children (including those with an EHCP) to attend school. We have asked that the DfE make clear that an decision about attendance at school must take into account the particular needs of the child / young person and their family and be coproduced with them. Places should be available for all vulnerable children but attendance should not be mandatory (e.g. where it would increase a young person’s anxiety or perhaps lead to bullying).
As a year like no other draws to the close, we would like to take the opportunity to reflect over the work of forums and the NNPCF over the last few months.
Covid 19 remains a huge concern
The pace of 2020 has been relentless. We know that the demands on forums have been greater and more sustained than ever before. As we look back on the last term, it is the response to Covid 19 that again dominates our work. Since schools returned, we have participated in regular conversations with the Department for Education to relay the experiences of families with SEND to them. You can find our key messages in our updates posted in September, October and November:
Despite this, the recovery from covid is only just starting and we have huge amounts of work to do to minimise the existing and future impacts on children and families with SEND.
But its not just Covid that we have been working on
Whilst Covid 19 has dominated our agenda again, the problems that were obvious in the SEND system before then pandemic have not gone away and have been exacerbated by Covid in many ways. we have also been engaged in several other major pieces of work. These include:
Engaged regularly with the SEND review to provide solutions to some of the most difficult issues in the SEND system. Look out for an NNPCF webinar on this in the new year.
NNPCF regions and local forums have supported the NHSE Learning Disability and /or Autism team with their regional roll out of the Key working pilots
NNPCF regions have also been invited to work with NHSE to support their work on Tier 4 admissions avoidance for children.
And most recently, we responded to the call for evidence from the Work and Pensions Parliamentary Select Committee on the disability employment gap.
As ever, we could not have done this without you – it was your responses to surveys on Home Education and the Disability Employment Gap that allowed us to submit such strong responses to the parliamentary select committees and your regional and local networks that made the work with NHSE possible.
Another very different conference
And in amongst all of this we managed to put on a very different conference with our partners from Contact. With great keynotes from Professor Russell Viner the president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Sue North and Ray James the Learning Disability and Autism leads from NHSE and messages from not one, but two Ministers, our conference was a busy week. Moreover, there were great sessions on topics chosen by you on mental health, running a forum and supported employment. The school exclusions team were hugely impressed with the feedback from members at their workshop and plan to meet with forums again in the Spring when they will be revising exclusions guidance.
So, it is fair to say that 2020 has been an incredible year – a year of hardship and loss but also one in which parent carer forums have shown their resilience, creativity and value time and time again. During the response to Covid 19 that eviscerated so many of the services that SEND families rely upon, forums have risen to the challenge and supported and represented their communities. The intelligence you have provided us has enabled the NNPCF to make sure that the lived experience of our children is heard by leaders across regional and national government and the NHS.
Next year will bring its own share of issues and opportunities. Despite all of your efforts, we know that the prospects for our children are more difficult than ever. We are already looking ahead to making sure that the voice of parent carers is represented in the following priority areas:
Yet again, we will rely upon your knowledge, experience and wisdom as we undertake this work.
It is with this in mind that we say thank you for all of your efforts this year and wish you a very happy holiday season. Please make sure that you take time off over the break, you have all earnt it.
We will; see you in the new year refreshed and ready to carry on our crucial work.
Today the government announced that the physical return to school in January for secondary school pupils will be staggered from the 4th of January to the 11th of January. Education will be provided remotely during this period.
All students in primary, special and alternative provision schools and colleges will return at their usual start of term.
Students in exam year groups, vulnerable children and children of critical workers will all attend school or college in person from the start of term. The definition of “vulnerable” for these purposes includes children with EHCPs. Unlike in the first lockdown, the availability of a school place will not be dependent upon a risk assessment for vulnerable pupils. All vulnerable pupils will be able to attend school.
We have asked for clarification of attendance expectations for vulnerable children in year groups that are out of school for this week – we have requested that in these cases parents be allowed to make a choice based on the needs of the family and the child as to whether their vulnerable child attends school or not.
(Please note that this is different to the definition of “clinically extremely vulnerable” for shielding purposes)
Lateral flow Covid 19 testing will be rolled out to staff in secondary schools and secondary age pupils (including those in specialist and AP settings).
Testing will not be mandatory and parental permission will be required. Students who receive positive test results will be asked to retest in 3 days and will be required to self-isolate in line with existing guidance
If a child is unable or unwilling to take a test, this will not impact their return to school with other pupils.
In October 2020 the NNPCF started collecting evidence to submit to the Education Committee for their inquiry into Elective Home Education. The inquiry will seek to understand the extent to which current arrangements provide sufficient support for home educated children to access efficient, full-time and suitable education, and establish what further measures may be necessary in order to facilitate this.
To view the NNPCF’s submission, it has been published on the committee’s website
On 12 November, NNPCF co-chairs Tina Emery and Mrunal Sisodia joined a small group of leaders from the SEND sector to brief the Children and Families Minister on the experience of families in the latest Covid 19 lockdown.
In preparation for the meeting, the NNPCF steering group prepared a briefing paper which was shared with leaders across government and the NHSE. You can fine a copy of our briefing here:
The impact on services of children being labelled as clinically extremely vulnerable, especially young people over the age of 18 with Down’s syndrome
The importance of respite care
Confusion and anxiety faced by many families around shielding and contact with family members and carers
The huge variation in the experiences of children and young people in schools including those accessing remote education. We particularly emphasised regional differences between those areas with high infection rates where there has already been extensive disruption.
We also recognised that many of the lessons from the first nationwide lockdown have been learnt with many essential exemptions and reasonable adjustments incorporated into the guidance from the beginning.
The group also touched on the ongoing SEND review. The Minister has asked for further briefings with the NNPCF co-chairs on this subject and we will keep you up to date.
Following the introduction of the new national restrictions on 5th November, this letter provides advice and guidance on several issues, including school attendance, children who are clinically extremely vulnerable, remote education, face coverings in education settings, respite, health services for children and young people with SEND, and the new winter package to provide support for children and young people and their families.
Ofsted has been carrying out interim visits to local areas to hear about the experiences of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), their families and the practitioners and leaders who are supporting them.
We are pleased to be working with Ofsted and CQC and welcome the findings in the report. We have been saying to all agencies, in order to do things right, there has to be co-production across all areas and levels and this is evident in this report. Those areas who work with children, young people and their families during the COVID pandemic have had a better experience.
Vicky Ford, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families, has published an open letter to children and young people with special educational needs (SEND), their families and carers and those who work to support them.
The letter provides advice and guidance on several issues, including behaviour, risk assessments, face coverings, specialist and visiting practitioners, mental health and wellbeing, aerosol generating procedures and hospital schools, as well as linking to some of the support available to help.
The letter addresses many of the key concerns that the NNPCF has raised with the Department for Education, Ofsted and with Minister Ford directly in our recent meetings. We are pleased the concerns of families and parent carer forums have been understood and are reflected in the letter. In particular, the sections on behaviour, exclusions, home schooling, off rolling, mental health and inspection are very welcome.
You can find a report of our recent representations here
It is now over to school and local authority leaders to ensure that the approach outlined in the letter is actually implemented.
We will continue to work with the Department for Education, the Minister and with schools sector to provide information and intelligence about how the return to school is going for children and young people with SEND and their families.