Coronavirus guidance: What mainstream settings should do to ensure the inclusion of disabled children

with Lorraine Petersen OBE, Educational Consultant

Trying to keep up with the government's latest coronavirus education guidance can seem like a full-time occupation. There is guidance for schools for re-opening and separate guidance for specialist settings. There's also guidance for safety and much more.

Mainstream schools may, reasonably, think the specialist settings guidance doesn't apply to them. But they would be wrong. Because the government has not so helpfully, put all the information for children with SEND in here, seemingly forgetting that most children with special educational needs are indeed in mainstream schools.

This may be one of the reasons why many families are being told their children either cannot return or are being offered a part-time timetable. Both of these things are unlawful. Just because a disabled child may find social distancing hard, or because their behaviour may not fit your COVID-amended policies, doesn't mean they should be excluded. Because that's what it is; an unlawful exclusion.

SEND education consultant, Lorraine Petersen, who is a former CEO of nasen, has written for us today to explain what's missing from the mainstream guidance and why schools need to also read the specialist document to be able to support all the children in their school.

Two sets of guidance but for inclusion, they must be read together, by Lorraine Petersen

On the 28th August, the Department for Education (DfE) finally published its guidance for the full opening of schools. It took a further 10 days to publish the guidance for the full opening of special schools and other specialist settings, even though many had already been open for a week.

Why do we need to have two sets of guidance? If we are attempting to be an inclusive society then surely this should start with guidance produced by our Government. The majority of the mainstream guidance is copy and pasted into the special school guidance. The occasional re-wording of “school” to “specialist setting” is the only difference. However, the additional aspects within the special school guidance is really relevant to our mainstream schools. Nearly half of all pupils with an EHCP are in a mainstream school and yet this is not reflected in the mainstream guidance. It would have been much easier to produce a document, in a timely manner, to support all schools and specialist settings. 

Special school headteachers just had to use what they had to plan for the opening of their schools without relevant DfE guidance. In fact, there are still major issues around children and young people with specific, complex medical needs (eg. Aerosol Generated Procedures – AGPs) that are still to be addressed. 

So, what aspects of the special school guidance do mainstream schools need to be aware of?

Risk Assessments and Education Health and Care Plans

Although this was in Annex B of the mainstream document it is right at the beginning of the special school guidance and clearly states that 

Following the partial closure of educational and childcare settings from 20 March 2020, we asked local authorities to consider the needs of all children and young people with an education, health and care (EHC) plan and to carry out a risk assessment. These risk assessments may prove useful now and over the autumn term to help identify any additional support that children and young people with EHC plans need in order to make a successful return to full-time education. We know that they help reassure pupils, families, and staff that it is safe for the pupil to be welcomed back to their setting. Risk assessments may also prove useful if:

  • children and young people have to self-isolate
  • a local outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) requires you to limit attendance or temporarily close

Risk assessments should inform a plan of action which focuses on supporting attendance and engagement and should incorporate the views of the child or young person. Where a child or young person with an EHC plan has a social worker, the social worker should also be involved in the risk assessment, along with the local authority virtual school head if the child is in care. Local authorities and educational settings should decide together who is best placed to undertake the risk assessment, noting that the duty to secure provision remains with the local authority.

Section 1: Public health and advice to minimise coronavirus (COVID-19) risks

In this section, there is additional information on hand hygiene, with a mention of children and young people who spit or use saliva as a sensory stimulant. There is also additional information about social distancing particularly given the need for staff to administer care support. The document also acknowledges that students with special needs may not be able to socially distance and the importance of keeping those children within their “bubbles” at all times. This may well be a challenge for mainstream schools who have nurture rooms or learning support areas where students can go when the need arises. 

The special school guidance is also very clear about visitors to school.

Specialists, therapists, clinicians and other support staff for pupils with SEND should provide interventions as usual. Supply teachers, peripatetic teachers or other temporary staff can move between settings. They should ensure they minimise contact and maintain as much distance as possible from other staff.

Mainstream schools need to ensure that those students with EHCPs are receiving all the provision that they are entitled to, especially if they have not been receiving their therapies and interventions during lockdown.

If you feel that the provision within an EHCP needs to be amended due to lockdown, then you need to discuss this with parent carers and the local authority to establish what additional provision is required.

Extending provision set out in an EHC Plan

The guidance includes instances where an EHCP may need to Conti new beyond age 25

We do not anticipate that children and young people will need to repeat a year of educational provision as a consequence of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This also applies to those with EHC plans. Similarly, we do not anticipate that young people will need to remain in education any longer than originally set out in their EHC plan.

However, in a small number of individual cases, it may be appropriate for a child or young person to extend their current educational provision or have their EHC plan extended. In most cases, this would consist of an individualised programme for a term or half term.

In all circumstances, this would need to be decided by the local authority, following a review of the child or young person’s needs and EHC plan.

Parents and young people can appeal to the First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability) if they disagree with certain decisions made by their local authority in relation to education, health and care (EHC) needs assessments and plans.

Section 2: School Operations

In this section you will find additional information on:

  • Transport
  • Face coverings and PPE
  • Staff deployment
  • Health and Safety

Section 3: Curriculum, behaviour and pastoral support

In this section you will find additional information on:

  • Music teaching
  • Catch-up support

Section 5: Assessment and accountability

In this section you will find additional information on remote education support for students with SEND.

It is really important that Senior Leaders in all schools and SENCOs in mainstream schools are aware of both sets of guidance to ensure an inclusive approach to supporting ALL children and young people in these difficult times.

Guidance mentioned:

I have produced my own summary of the special school guidance that you can find here

Lorraine Petersen OBE, Educational Consultant,

Also read:

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