Ofsted: Two-thirds of disabled children “disengaged” from remote learning, while less than half of schools offer extra help

UPDATE 2 March 2021: Ofsted has published further information and a video, which is embedded below

New research from Ofsted has revealed that fewer than half (46%) of teachers surveyed said their school offered any additional remote learning arrangements for pupils with SEND. Nearly two-thirds of parents of a child with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) said they had been disengaged with remote learning, compared with almost 40% of parents of children without additional needs, according to the new report.

The report covers remote education for all pupils, but in this article, I'm concentrating on the experience of children with SEND, as you would expect.

While all parents reported continued focus to be an issue with remote learning during lockdown, both parents and schools expressed particular concerned about children with SEND and their engagement with remote education. While some special schools have adapted their remote education to support SEND pupils, such as supplying assisted reading technology, the report says more work needs to be done to engage children with SEND.

The report's findings were drawn from various sources of research, including a YouGov survey of teachers and parents. It shows a large proportion of schools in England feel they're doing well at mitigating loss of learning remote education. However, while three-fifths of teachers surveyed were confident in providing a "high-quality remote education when this was needed", schools are at different stages of development. This means, inevitably, there is wide variability in the remote learning on offer - and presumably that also means in the quality of support for children with SEND.

The research shows many schools working really hard to try to support their pupils' physical and emotional wellbeing, as well as delivering learning:

Most schools told us they are checking in regularly with pupils about their well-being. Other schools are going to great lengths to support children and families, for example by delivering food packages and other resources to their homes and checking in with parents as well as children. Schools recognise that when children struggle with the social and emotional impact of the pandemic, their remote learning is likely to be affected. Schools are working to mitigate that.

Adapting for pupils with SEND

Providing remote, yet inclusive, education that allows pupils with SEND to "meaningfully engage with and benefit", is a concern for both parents and schools. 59% of parents of a pupil with SEND questioned by YouGov said that their child has been disengaged with remote learning, compared with 39% of parents of children without additional needs. Schools were also concerned about greater learning gaps for pupils with SEND and that the "negative social and emotional impact of the disruption of remote learning" would be more severe.

Leaders of two special schools interviewed offered some specific examples of adapting their curriculum, teaching and support to meet the needs of their pupils. These emphasised a 'tangible' rather than 'digital' central focus of their remote curriculum because their pupils with complex sensory needs found it difficult to work with just a screen.

To try to reduce the loss of routine and familiarity, some schools tried the following:

  • Where pupils had a strong relationship with a teaching assistant, a learning support assistant or other adult, schools arranged for the adult to record voice messages for pupils, so that they could hear a familiar and friendly voice.
  • Maintaining the in-person timetable to minimise changes in routines.
  • Using assisted reading digital tools, when one-on-one reading support was not possible
  • Delivering extra resources or equipment such as sensory or occupational therapy equipment and even desks to the child's home.
  • Offering training to parents with the specialist equipment their children needed.

The overall message was that the most effective solutions for pupils with SEND were bespoke, taking into account the specific needs and circumstances of each individual child. Greater focus and planning will be needed in the future to ensure that the worst effects of learning loss and the physical, social and emotional impacts of lockdown are mitigated for these pupils.

Getting online

Remote learning of course presupposes that the child has access to the required technology. An internet connection but no laptop or relying on a pay-as-you-go dodgy connection does not provide a suitable online learning environment. A "few leaders had prioritised access to dongles or pre-loaded data cards for families that lacked access". A few? It's actually difficult to believe this is still an issue, considering we've been in this situation for 10 months. What about the government's much-vaunted laptop distribution scheme?

Difficulties also arise from sharing laptops with siblings, making live, time-tabled lessons "problematic", and the availability of parental support – particularly for primary-aged children. It's hard for a parent of a child, or children, with SEND to manage different learning needs with no training while perhaps also trying to work from home or manage younger siblings.

Safeguarding for remote learning

The report gives specific advice for safeguarding such as only recording with permission and, surprisingly, being "fully-dressed", which one would imagine would be the very basic expectation.

Regarding children with SEND, the recommendations recognise that in some cases, teaching staff and assistants may need to speak to children one-on-one, to provide extra support. In this case, the report says, "staff should ensure that parents are aware of and invited to, any one-to-one interactions with pupils and that those interactions are necessary. Senior staff should also be aware and have the option to join these sessions. Staff should also make clear their expectations around behaviour, and that a ‘classroom standard’ of behaviour is expected from all participants.

What about the positives of remote learning?

The report did point to benefits to remote working such as children being able to work at their own pace, working in a quieter space and taking breaks when needed. However, we know that many disabled children are not able to meet the pace of learning delivered as a class without additional support. It also depends entirely on whether they have the correct devices and internet access and the space at home to start with.

For pupils with SEND, the positive opportunities included using different platforms to cater for different needs and to, "overcome issues that may have previously excluded pupils from parts or all of certain lessons. Pupils with sensory overload issues, for example, could be taught remotely for a portion of a lesson and then reintroduced to the main class later on when the environment had ‘calmed down’." It would be interesting to see how this would work.

Most of the leaders mentioned that they had found ways to engage parents, as well as children, in using their remote education solution. This was particularly the case with the primary school leaders spoken to. Many had created surveys, videos and newsletters to help communicate the design of their remote solution and expectations for pupils to parents. As an added benefit, leaders suggested that this improved relationships with parents and built trust.

Many school leaders recognised benefits from remote learning and are considering retaining them into the future including:

  • video lessons from subject experts to provide teacher cover (this has some potential workload benefits)
  • supporting anxious or excluded students off-site or in other on-site learning areas
  • availability of pre-recorded lessons for revision purposes or where pupils miss lessons due to illness
  • provision of teaching and learning during bad weather closures, extended pupil illness, holidays, interventions for over and underachievement and a 'Huge opportunity to make sure that not a single day of a child’s education is lost to events beyond their control.’
  • better homework delivery
  • giving pupils the means to manage aspects of their own learning.

Monitoring inspections restarting

From what parents are telling us, schools are, on the whole, doing much better this time round, with more children in school and more experience of handling pandemic education. However, other parents say schools are deciding for themselves who they will allow in, despite government guidance saying all children with EHCPs should be offered a place. Also, we're hearing that some local authorities have been telling parents that EHCPs are not in force at the moment. This is UNTRUE. The government has not repeated its suspension of s42 duties and LAs MUST make sure provision specified in Education, Health and Care Plans is carried out. Watch my interview with SEN lawyer Hayley Mason here which tells you everything you need to know.

Parents are also telling us how incredibly grateful they are to their children's schools for all their hard work. We have many comments from parents that attest to this that we will be bringing you soon.

When it comes to accountability, Ofsted is now resuming monitoring inspections of schools judged to be inadequate at their previous inspection, as well as some graded ‘requires improvement’. These inspections look at progress and encourage improvement. They are not full inspections, will mainly be done remotely and they won't result in a grade. However, where Ofsted has immediate concerns, such as safeguarding, school leadership or a failure to provide education to children, the Inspectorate will continue to carry out on-site inspections.

How is your child's school doing? Let us know in the comments. Find the Ofsted research here

Update, March 2021

At the beginning of March 2021, Ofsted published an update, "How remote education is working for children and young people with SEND"

The main messages included

  • Careful selection and sequencing of curriculum content is the essential starting point for providing remote education. This means really focusing on the most important things for children and young people with SEND to learn.
  • Structure, routine and consistent support continue to be important for many children and young people with SEND. However, the flexibility of asynchronous approaches to remote education is really helping some children and young people with SEND to learn and make progress.
  • Effective communication with families and carers is crucial. Strengthening relationships with parents and carers and giving them the knowledge and practical help, they need to support their child’s learning has had a positive impact and may have longer-term benefits
  • Disruption to essential education, health and care services has had a huge impact on children and young people with SEND. Not all children and young people with SEND will return to their education setting on 8 March. Some are clinically vulnerable. Some may need to wait longer to return to training sites, and others may be sent home to self-isolate. For the further education sector, learners returning to training sites may take slightly longer. It’s important that to consider how what has been learned during this profoundly challenging period might help better support children and young people with SEND in the future.

It came with a video explaining the research, which we've included below.

You can also download the slides: Remote education for children and young people with SEND: a discussion pack for leaders and practitioners.

Also read:

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Tania Tirraoro

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