Children and young people with SEND disproportionately affected by the pandemic

Long-standing problems in the system of care for children and young people with SEND have been made even worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report from Ofsted has found.

18/06/21

Children and young people with SEND disproportionately affected by the pandemic

Joint visits by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found existing weaknesses in the care systems for children with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) were exacerbated by the pandemic.

The findings of visits carried out during the autumn term of 2020 and spring term of 2021 were revealed in a report highlighting the cumulative effects of disruption caused by the pandemic on the health, learning and development of children with SEND.

The report describes the negative experiences of children and families, including missed and narrowed education, the absence of essential services such as physiotherapy or speech and language support, and long waiting times for assessment and treatment.

By the time of Ofsted’s final visits in the spring, inspectors found that families were exhausted, even despairing, particularly when they were still unable to access essential services for their children.

The report finds that breakdowns in universal education and health and care services, resulting in children and young people not learning essential skills and knowledge, led to some children mistakenly being identified as having SEND, as well as “significant inconsistencies” in how SEND is identified.

Authors also found that a lack of joined-up commissioning and joint-working across education, health and care, along with a lack of clarity between organisations about who is responsible and accountable within local area SEND systems were made worse by the pandemic.

The report recommended more accessible universal services for children and their families, delivered by practitioners with a strong understanding of how to meet the needs of children and young people with SEND. They also urged a greater sense of joint responsibility, accountability, and coordination between partners in a local area.

Commenting on the findings, Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector at Ofsted, said that despite many local area leaders and practitioners going “above and beyond,” children and young people were not always getting the education and care they needed, even before the pandemic.

“As the damaging effects of the pandemic on children and young people with SEND become clear, so too does the need to ensure that we are all playing our role in supporting them,” Spielman said.

Ofsted says the report will inform the development of a new inspection framework, created in partnership with the CQC, aimed at driving further improvement in the SEND system and supporting children and young people at this critical moment.

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