Coronavirus Lockdown 2.0: What does it mean for disabled children?

Welcome to Coronavirus Lockdown 2.0. I don't know about you, but 2020 has seemed like a nightmare you can't quite wake up from. Just when you think you have, you're pulled back down into its murky depths.

This nightmare has only been made worse by the government's continual flip-flopping, inconsistent messaging and lack of engagement with the people affected most by their decisions. Namely, disabled adults, children, and their families. It says it's "consulted stakeholders" and indeed, we have been involved in a couple of meetings after which slight adjustments were made to clarify guidance. But far too many children reliant on suctioning and with tracheostomies have still not been able to attend school, with little remote education, the provision of which is now legally required (see later)

*Find updates to this and a new letter from SEND Minister, Vicky Ford, here*

This extends to the mystery of why the SEND Review still hasn't reported, more than a year after it was announced following a wave of dreadful reports and inquiries into SEND. As our survey showed in July, the first coronaviris lockdown underlined that disabled children suffered the most with a large percentage unable to access any education for months. We're currently beginning analysis of our autumn SEND survey and we can already see things haven't improved for many.

What has changed for coronavirus lockdown 2.0?

The government yesterday published guidance about how new national restrictions for coronavirus lockdown 2 in England from today (November 5) will impact education, childcare and children’s social care settings. It also said the following here about shielding:

"More evidence has emerged that shows there is a very low risk of children becoming very unwell from COVID-19, even for children with existing health conditions. Most children originally identified as clinically extremely vulnerable no longer need to follow this advice. Speak to your GP or specialist clinician, if you have not already done so, to understand whether your child should still be classed as clinically extremely vulnerable.
Those children whose doctors have confirmed they are still clinically extremely vulnerable are advised not to attend school while this advice is in place. Your school will make appropriate arrangements for you to be able to continue your education at home. Children who live with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable, but who are not clinically extremely vulnerable themselves, should still attend school."

Guidance on shielding and protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19

Of note, adults with Down’s syndrome are included as extremely clinically vulnerable but inexplicably, children with DS are not.

The main guidance about supporting children and young people with SEND has not yet, at time of writing, been updated, but I expect it will be so keep an eye on it. Please also, if you haven’t already, read our article here about the SEND guidance that's missing from the mainstream back to school document

Face coverings must be worn in the communal areas of secondary schools and colleges in England but not in classrooms. Because COVID-19 stops at the classroom door, of course.

However, schools, and all education settings, remain open for all children and other guidance around this has not changed. Neither have any laws or regulations about the provision of SEND. So schools, colleges and local authorities must still fulfil their duties to disabled children and young people. Whether or not they're currently doing that at the moment is highly variable, as we all know.

Teaching union, the NEU has demanded that schools be closed. And a council leader in Lancashire is calling for school rotas saying the education system has become “a super spreader”. Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon MP, has said closing schools would be "disastrous".

Whatever happens, I sincerely hope that the Department for Education does not weaken the laws on SEND provision again. Last time, this decision really was disastrous for many thousands of disabled children and young people and many still haven't got their provision back. To do so again would be indefensible and extremely cruel.

Remote education is now a legal duty for schools and colleges

As I mentioned earlier, from 22nd October, it became a (temporary) legal duty for schools to provide remote education for state-funded, school-age children unable to attend school due to coronavirus (COVID-19).

Where a pupil, class, group or small number of pupils need to self-isolate, or there is a local lockdown requiring pupils to remain at home, DfE expects schools to be able to immediately offer them access to remote education. Schools should ensure remote education, where needed, is high-quality and aligns as closely as possible with in-school provision.

Get help with remote education

So parents of those children who are not in school because of coronavirus (note it doesn't include those children who don't have school places because of their SEND...) should make sure their schools are doing just this. If you don't have the technology - enough useable devices or a reliable internet connection - to do this, your school should be able to help. There is (or supposed to have been) government money provided for children without the required equipment, but it has been reported that this, like everything, has not been as successfully as it should have been.

If you have relatives in a residential or care home, the guidance is here

Department of Health guidance for parents and carers on supporting children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is here

11,000 strong call to protect autistic people

Meanwhile, the National Autistic Society have followed their own 'Left Stranded' survey with an open letter to Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, calling on him to use his upcoming Spending Review to protect autistic people and their families from future waves of coronavirus, and to invest in support and services.

The letter has been signed by more than 11,000 people, urging the UK Government to commit to including autistic people and their families in their 'levelling up' agenda.

The NAS report, like our own report (that surveyed all types of disabled children), found coronavirus and the first lockdown had deepened well-established existing inequalities. The disruption and uncertainty, as well as the overnight withdrawal of support from social care, education and mental health services, made a bad situation far worse than it might have been.  

“Autistic people and their families have been struggling to get the care, support and understanding they need for years and things have been made even harder by coronavirus. children and adults have been left completed stranded. 
“The inequalities that autistic people and their families face aren’t new - we’ve been highlighting them for years. But coronavirus has laid them bare and deepened them. 
“Thank you to the many thousands of people who signed our letter. The Chancellor must listen to all our voices and take urgent action, by using next month’s Spending Review to protect autistic people from future waves of the virus. This means investing in the support and services autistic people need, and ending the inequalities that have persisted for years. Only then can we start creating a society that works for autistic people and their families.” 

Caroline Stevens, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society

Should I just home educate?

If you're thinking about home education, be cautious. If your child has an Education, Health and Care Plan, just deregistering them from school relieves the LA of all responsibility to provide for them. You should ask for an EOTAS package "Education Other than at School" instead. Watch or listen to our two-part SNJ In Conversation here and here to find out about the law on EOTAS, and about what SEND law says now.

Finally, a quick plug for our friend, barrister, Steve Broach, and his webinar for people in need of care and support on Monday:

Updates:

Also read:


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Tania Tirraoro
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