Ask, Listen, Act, so disabled learners’ two years of pandemic misery is never repeated

With Dr Emma Ashworth (she/her) PhD AFHEA CPsychol, Lecturer in Psychology, Disability Coordinator, School of Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University

For the second year running we are approaching Christmas under the grim shadow of the pandemic, especially with the latest worrying news about the Omicron variant arriving in the UK. During this time, we've covered a number of research studies about the impact of lockdowns on children with SEND, as well as carried out our own.

But of course, the pandemic's impacts stretch beyond lockdowns. There is a cumulative effect of almost two years of disruption or suspension of services, education and health care, and the stress of having our lives upended and perhaps suffering from, or losing loved ones to, COVID. We are exhausted from the stop - start - stop nature of it all, while also trying to carry on as best we can, supporting our families and raising our children. And when your child or a family member is disabled or otherwise clinically vulnerable, the stress is even worse.

Some new quantitative survey data recently published by researchers at two Liverpool universities, looks over the last couple of years at how the never-ending coronavirus pandemic has affected disabled children and their families. It's clear that whatever impact has been felt by young people generally, has been amplified many times over for those with SEND.

The Ask, Listen, Act survey examined data from previous research and spoke to children and young people themselves as well as their families about how their education, health and social care had been affected.

Dr Emma Ashworth of John Moores University and team have written for us about the stark findings of the study and what needs to happen to reduce the increasing inequalities experienced.

SNJ now wants the Government to use all the research to formulate an emergencies plan for the future to ensure this never happens again.

Just a quick note from the SNJ team: Today is Giving Tuesday, so if you feel like we add something useful to your life, please do think about making a donation, however small, or join us as a regular patron and get our exclusive monthly email newsletter as a thank you

The Ask, Listen, Act Study: The Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Children with SEND’s Education, Health & Social Care

By Dr Emma Ashworth (Liverpool John Moores University), Prof. Lucy Bray (Edge Hill University), Prof. Amel Alghrani (University of Liverpool) and Dr Joanna Kirkby (Liverpool John Moores University)

Our project looked at how children with SEND experienced the pandemic and what lessons were learnt for reducing the long-term impact of COVID-19 for children with SEND. 

There are three parts to the project all involving children with SEND, parent/carers and professionals:

  • Part 1 – a review of published reports about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children with SEND
  • Part 2 – an online survey and interviews
  • Part 3 – running priority-setting workshops 

This short summary is about the online survey results from part two. 

Who Took Part?

55 children with SEND, 893 parent/carers, 163 health and social care professionals, 100 education professionals and 44 local authority professionals took part in the study. Those who answered the survey were spread across the UK, children had a broad range of SEND, and a range of health and social care and educational professionals took part.

The study and its results

We asked respondents to fill in an online survey about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children with SEND. Children also had the opportunity to tell us about their experiences of the pandemic through emoji’s and pictures. The online surveys were filled in from June 2021 to July 2021.

Children with SEND’s Experiences 

When sharing their views of the pandemic and lockdowns, children with SEND shared mixed views:

35% (n=17) of children chose this emoji.

23% (n=11) of children chose this emoji.

13% (n=6) of children chose this emoji.

When asked what they felt about coming out of lockdown, things opening up, and everyone being back in school, they selected the following emojis:

no emotion emoji

28% (n=12) of children chose this emoji.

23% (n=10) of children chose this emoji.

19% (n=8) of children chose this emoji.

Parents and Professionals’ reports of the impact on children with SEND

Changes in the law: 

In May 2020, children with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans had their educational, health and social care rights downgraded by the Government.

Staff working in local authorities reported that the largest impact of the change in law was on the ability to offer children with SEND access to the following services:  education (59%); health (49%); social care (36%); and play and recreation (33%). Out of 483 parents whose child had an EHC Plan, 68% (n=325) reported that over the pandemic their child’s education, health, and social care needs were ‘not met at all’ or ‘somewhat met’ in accordance with their EHC Plan. 

The pandemic impacted on requests and completions of EHC Plans. 65% (n=22) of local authority staff said there had been an increase in requests for EHC Plan assessments since March 2020, and two-fifths (40%; n=14) said that fewer EHC Plan assessments were completed in the statutory timeframe since March 2020, in comparison to the previous year.

Decreased Access to Education and Learning:

Most parents (89%; n=655) said their child with SEND was not able to access face-to-face education during the first lockdown, and almost half (46%, n=261) said that remote learning was not at all effective in meeting their child’s learning needs. This resulted in 69% (n=509) of parents reporting that the national lockdowns had either an ‘extremely’ or ‘somewhat’ negative impact on their child’s education and learning.

Many (40%; n=38) education professionals said that they were not able to provide the alternative/specialist resources needed for children with SEND 58% (n=58) said that they felt that pupils with SEND had been more negatively affected by the pandemic than pupils without SEND.

Decreased Access to Health and Social Care Services:

During the first lockdown, parents said that their child with SEND had decreased access to physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, mental health support from CAMHS, respite and short breaks, and support groups than they had done before the pandemic (Table 1).

Support TypePre-COVID-19First Lockdown
Occupational therapy35%2%
Mental health support from CAMHS24%5%
Respite and short breaks29%3%
Support groups30%2%
Table 1: The proportion of parents/carers who told us that their child was accessing health and social care before the COVID-19 pandemic and during the first national lockdown

During the first lockdown (March 2020-July 2020), just over three-quarters of health and social care professionals (77%; n=125) said that the quality of their service provision for chidren with SEND was ‘much worse’ or ‘slightly worse’ than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Worsening Mental Health and Weaker Friendships:

Parents said that because of the lockdowns their child’s social skills (71%; n=198), mental health (65%; n=179) and ability to interact with others, play (86%; n=441) and make and sustain friendships (69%; n=407) had got worse.

The majority of the parents (67%; n=582) who responded to the survey said that their own mental health had got worse over the pandemic.

Increased Need for Support and Safeguarding Concerns 

Almost three-quarters (72%; n=117) of health and social care professionals said that there had been ‘many’ or ‘slightly’ more requests for support, resources and provision for children with SEND from their service.

The majority of education professionals (77%; n=77) told us there had been an increased number of requests for SEND support/assessments during the pandemic. 

62% (n=62) of education professionals said that there had been an increased number of safeguarding concerns for children with SEND over the pandemic.

Want to Know More?

We will be discussing these findings in a launch meeting on January 10th 2022. The meeting will take place via Zoom. If you would like to attend please email or

If you would like to know more please visit the webpage:

This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research’s (NIHR) Policy Research Programme (Recovery, Renewal, Reset: Research to inform policy responses to COVID-19 funding stream, funded by the Department of Health and Social Care, NIHR202718). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

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Tania Tirraoro

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