Provision denied: Children with SEND have had their needs and education “pushed to one side, for the convenience of the majority.”

Special Needs Jungle survey shows a widespread failure to restore disabled children’s SEND provision when children returned to school in the Autumn Term 2020. 

45 recommendations sourced from parents' comments to put things right for disabled learners' educational support in 2021

A detailed survey of over a thousand parents of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities carried out by the Special Needs Jungle team, has revealed a widespread failure to restore SEND provision at all levels, with many disabled children prevented from returning to school at all. This means by this spring, some children with the greatest needs will have been out of their normal placements for more than a year.

By the time the autumn term 2020 began, the statutory duties to make and arrange SEN provision in Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs)  had been fully restored. However, whether it was provision in EHCPs or on the lower levels of SEN Support, it is apparent that COVID was used as a reason, or an excuse, for support being denied. Therapies in particular, such as speech and language and occupational therapy, were not back in place, with few external therapists allowed into the school environment, despite government guidance stating that this was allowed. 

Disabled children "pushed to one side"

It is clear that some parents believe, with good reason, that their children’s needs and education have been pushed to one side, for the convenience of the majority. In some cases, risk assessments have still been used to filter attendance and prevent children from returning to school.  

It is particularly concerning that 8% of respondents reported that they had no placement to send their child back to. This warrants further investigation to determine what effect the Covid response has had on placement allocation.

As schools start to consider integrating pupils back into full-time attendance, Special Needs Jungle has published a comprehensive report outlining 45 recommendations, most of them easy to implement, to ensure learners with SEND do not miss out yet again. Eight of the recommendations are aimed specifically at the government to ensure that necessary measures are taken to support a safe return. 

Both our summer 2020 survey and our autumn 2020 SEND survey have highlighted that it is, in fact, quite possible for schools to meet the individual needs of each child or young person with SEND during a pandemic, whether it is a legal requirement or not, with collaborative working practices and an inclusive mindset. Many schools have done just this and parents expressed immense gratitude in the survey comments for the support they and their children had received.

In the survey conducted in the first half of the autumn term, we asked parents both what had gone wrong, what worked well and what would have helped. From this, we have compiled 37 recommendations for schools and local authorities, and a further eight for government.  

Main findings

Our survey found that by the end of October 2020: 

  • Nearly two-thirds of parents/carers of learners with EHCPs reported that their child's legally binding provision had not been fully restored. Given that schools have been allocated funding to carry out these interventions, and there is an absolute legal duty for LAs to ensure that the provision in EHCPs is delivered, we believe the failure in delivering it should be investigated at a national level.
  • Fewer than one in five parents explicitly confirmed that all provision in their child's EHCP had been fully restored - most of the rest weren't sure. 
  • NHS-delivered therapies such as speech and language, occupational therapy, and hydrotherapy were all areas where parents were most likely to report that no legally-binding provision had been restored. 
  • For those children on SEN Support, without an EHCP, just 8% of parents/carers confirmed all the special educational needs support their child had prior to the spring lockdown in 2020 was now back in place. Almost three-quarters of these said some or all of their child's SEND support had been withdrawn - not just therapies, but also large quantities of teaching assistant support. 
  • Only 18% of surveyed knew whether their child had been given a “risk assessment” to guide their return to school or college. Just 9% described themselves as 'fully involved' in this process. Many parents who were aware of the risk assessment reported that they were given no input into it. 
  • While 80% of parents/carers of SEND learners said that their child was back in school or college,  with a strong majority back full-time, this is still significantly lower than the 88% average attendance rates for all pupils in state schools at the same time.
  • 12% reported that their child was not back at school or college. There were many reasons for this: some (particularly special school pupils) were extremely medically vulnerable or had medical needs (such as requiring Aerosol Generating Procedures) that apparently couldn't be met in school. Others were self-isolating due to suspected / actual COVID exposure or had children who were too anxious to attend school; other parents said their child's return to school had failed due to unmet need. 
  • 8% said their child had no placement to go back to at all. 
  • Of those learners with SEND still at home rather than in their normal placement, most of the respondent parents/carers reported that their child was receiving no education at all. Fewer than 10% of this group reported receiving and using online teaching from school; take-up of Oak Academy or other online platforms was even lower. Where parents in this category were delivering education, most were likely to report either that they were doing bits and pieces when they could, or that they were following a home-created curriculum. 
  • In the spring 2020 lockdown, there was a roughly even split between the proportion of children whose anxiety had increased or decreased. The prospect of a return to school in September painted a different picture, with anxiety on the increase. 
  • Most of children or young people who normally used local authority-funded transport to get to school or college, were using the same method in autumn. However, only one in six of this group reported that additional social distancing measures had been put in place on this type of transport. 
  • For those who could not return, most received little support with education at home. Staffing shortages and the additional demands of COVID-19 planning appear to have further reduced the support available for those unable to attend in person. Fewer than 10% reported receiving and using online teaching from school. This raises concerns about the appropriateness and accessibility of online education for disabled children and young people.

Why the discrepancy in provision?

We would also like to see research into what factors make the difference between the schools that were brilliantly inclusive and those that represented the opposite extreme. What is it about an individual school’s profile, ethos, leadership, resilience and staff that enabled it to excel in its support of disabled children and young people during this incredibly difficult time? A big part is clearly the quality of leadership and perhaps this is something that Ofsted can look more closely at. 

From our section about what would have worked well, parents did not want anything expensive or extraordinary. Better communication, more advance planning for children with SEND to ensure inclusion and more thought about how each child might differ from the average child in what they need to get back to school safely and happily. While teacher training for SEND must be improved from initial teacher training right through to school leadership level, none of what families needed here required an expert SEND knowledge. It simply required compassion, an inclusive mindset and a will to make it happen. In far too many schools, this seems to have been fallen by the wayside in the struggle to get children back to school under COVID guidelines. 

The narrative that all children were expected to attend school full-time when clearly not all were allowed to, has also contributed to a lack of contingency planning at national level. It is crucial that families and/or schools are properly resourced to support these children before schools open fully.

Meaningful parental engagement must happen

Before full reopening in Spring 2021, there must be meaningful engagement with families and schools so that any additional resources and support required to facilitate safe attendance can be put in place. Full and detailed contingency plans must be put in place for those children and young people who are not able to attend so that they can access education in a way that works for them and their families.

We have drawn up 45 recommendations, including eight for government. We hope they will be put into practice to ensure children and young people with SEND are not an afterthought yet again. 

Reactions from other organisations to our report

Scroll below to read comments from professional and voluntary national SEND organisations. On mobile? Press and hold image to pause and enlarge

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Many easy-to-implement recommendations

From these findings, we have developed 45 recommendations. Most of these are inexpensive, if not cost-free. They simply require the will to create an environment that welcomes every child and is focused on inclusion.

They include the following:


  • Seven recommendations for reintegration to school including:
    • Starting planning as early as possible, asking the local authority for any needed additional resources, well ahead of time. 
    • Publishing how they are ensuring a safe environment and what contingency plans are for an outbreak. 
    • Considering early reviews of statutory provision to take account of lost learning. 
    • An empathetic approach to COVID testing on pupils for those children who may find this distressing. It must not be used as a reason to exclude 
    • Particular care for SEND learners who will be moving schools /college in 2021 to assess any changes to their needs, and ensuring they have enough chances to familiarise themselves with their September place of study in the summer term. 
    • Catch-up and tutoring programmes should focus on children with SEND who are likely to have lost more learning and skills and will take longer to regain them. 
    • Before full reopening in Spring 2021, there must be meaningful engagement with families and schools to facilitate timely preparation of any additional support and detailed plans made for any child unable to attend so that they can access education in a way that’s accessible for them.


  • Three recommendations for risk assessments including:
    • Avoid framing disabled children as a “risk” but instead, a “Return to School Transition Plan” for those SEND learners who have not been attending. Many of these children will not, in fact, have been in school for almost a year. 
    • The return plan should include how the child’s identified needs will be met, taking into account existing EHCPs, health plans or support plans. 
    • School leaders must ensure their staff are aware of the most up-to-date government 


  • Three recommendations for SEND transport including: 
    • Planning for SEND transport should be started well in advance and considered as part of the ‘return to school’ plan, including whether changes need to be made to allow distancing. 
    • Considering whether a child’s needs have changed during the pandemic and may now need a change to transport. Local authorities (LAs) should be sympathetic to this. 
    • Mandatory, regular  testing of all transport personnel until their  COVID vaccinations are completed.


  • We have made two recommendations for behaviour:
    • Any changes to behaviour policies must comply with the Equality Act 2010. 
    • Schools should consider and understand potential reasons behind a deterioration in behaviour such as anxiety or family bereavement. 


  • While many of the recommendations for those with EHCPs also work for SEN Support pupils, we made three recommendations in particular for restarting non-statutory SEN Support, including:
    • SENCOs should ensure that families know their child is actually on the SEN register and is invited to be actively involved as a partner in their support. 
    • Assess, Plan, Do, Review plans should be reviewed and updated accordingly.
    • Some children’s needs may have increased while others may now need to be on the SEN register. External assessments with relevant experts should be considered, especially if a child may now require an EHC needs assessment.


  • Anxiety has emerged as a significant issue for many people, not least children with additional needs. We have made five recommendations here, including:
    • No fines for non-attendance if a child cannot attend because of anxiety.
    • Flexible timetables should be considered at the request of the parent/carer to support a child with anxiety to make a full-time return.
    • Schools could prepare “back to school” graphics, and social stories, including tips for coping with anxiety from the many available from relevant support organisations.
    • Schools should consider implementing sessions for mindfulness, meditation or similar, if they do not already do this.
    • School should consider creating a safe space in school for pupils to go to if they become overwhelmed.


  • As you might expect, considering our parental focus, we have made eight recommendations for working with parents on their children restarting school, including:
    • Even before a confirmed return date, speak to individual families, to ask where sticking points may arise and what might work to mitigate them. Plan to put these accommodations in place in good time. 
    • If creating a general “welcome back” pack, consider the specific needs of children with SEND, such as visual or easy-read versions and videos. What works for children with SEND, works for all children.
    • Make timetables available early. Class teachers/form tutors should arrange a video call with parent and child to see if they have any questions or worries. Consider using a prompt sheet, for example, “What are you excited/worried/unsure about?” to help frame the chat or use suitable visuals. 
    • Arrange with parents for children with SEND who haven’t been in school to start a day early or have a half-day visit to help them get settled. 
    • Continue good home-school communications so you can see if stressors at school that may not seem a problem, are being acted out at home. 
    • If there are new staff members, send pictures home of each one with their names and a cheery message from them. Send pictures or video of any new classrooms or spaces. Remember parents are vital partners in supporting this.
    • If a child or parent voices a concern take it seriously, even if you consider it a trivial matter. It might be to you; it isn’t to them. 
    • If your ideas or your plan has worked well, share them with other teachers and schools!

Recommendations for important government action


  • Additionally, we have made eight recommendations for government, including:
    • Reconfigure and consolidating all education COVID guidance in to one, easily searchable, categorised, body of information. 
    • The SEND Review must designate a much-needed uplift to the notional SEND budget so schools can provide resources for needs emerging or increasing because of COVID. If these are needs not addressed urgently, with funding to match, it will likely lead to a considerable rise in the number of EHCP applications. 
    • Consider creating criteria for some children with SEND or who have been unwell to repeat a school year if they and their family requests this. 
    • Allow children with SEND to keep their EHCPS for an additional year after the age of 25, and extending supported internships and training. 
    • Finally, although it was not within the scope of this survey, we feel it is important that young people with SEND aged 18-25 who are at university, should not be forgotten. Many higher education students with disabilities have not been able to participate fully in online learning. We believe the government should consider funding an additional year of their current course and Disabled Students’ Allowance, at no cost to the student, if required. Disabled students who would qualify for Limited Capability to Work should also be allowed to apply for Universal Credit while they are studying. For many disabled students, whose mental and physical health have suffered in the last year, this may be the only way they can finish their studies and reach their potential. 

Plain link to report

For more information, please contact Tania Tirraoro or Renata Blower:

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