Three quarters of special school pupils left without essential care support last year

New research finds that 77% of pupils with EHCPs learning from home during the first lockdown in 2020 received either little to no social care support as parents and families report increased behavioural and mental health issues in their children.

03/02/21

Three quarters of special school pupils left without essential care support last year

Social care support provisions were severely impacted for many children in special schools due to the restrictions put in place during the first national lockdown last year, a new report from the Nuffield Foundation has revealed.

The survey of over 200 special schools and colleges found governmental changes to the law regarding the implementation of Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs), as well as the national instruction for social care professionals to work from home, resulted in a significant fall in the levels of necessary support given to children.

Almost all special school students currently have an EHCP – a legal document that means that local authorities must provide provisions outlined to effectively support the individual in question.

The Coronavirus Act (2020), enacted by the UK Government at the start of the first national lockdown, disapplied the legal requirement for local authorities to ensure the exact support was provided and instead advised to use “best endeavours” to try and provide what was possible.

This, combined with the redeployment of many health and care professionals and the Government instruction to end of face to face work during the first lockdown, meant that many pupils saw their level of support reduced, the report found.

Whilst those moved to remote learning were the most effected by the changes, the survey found that over half (57%) of pupils still able to attend the classroom also lost access to the full support that they needed.

The report also highlighted a potential social divide between those with EHCPs who lost significant levels of support, with 44% of independent education providers able to maintain large support levels of pupils working from home, compared with just 15% of state schools.

Education leaders raised significant concerns over the level of support they received from social services during the first national lockdown, with providers already confused by Government guidance surrounding the rules pertaining to keeping special schools open.

The research found that social services were unable to conduct in-person visits and checks due to Government restrictions and both providers and parents reported that they often faced difficulties in establishing clear and consistent communication lines with social care professionals suddenly instructed to work from home.

As a result, education providers said that they felt they were required to support pupils where possible, including working to support run-aways, those refusing to stay at home, self-harm and physical aggressive behaviours, and addressing grief and bereavement.

Both parents and education leaders raised concerns that pupils may now require additional support than currently mapped within their EHCPs as a result of the loss of care provisions throughout the initial set of lockdown restrictions.

However, examples of good practice between social services and education providers were highlighted, including one example where, due to changes necessitated by lockdown, social services were made a greater part of the EHCP delivery package.

The school leader involved reported this had made a real difference as a single named social services contact was set up for the whole school rather than one for each pupil.

Education and social care were found to have worked collaboratively, sharing information about families and sharing the support burden between them.

“If school were more involved, Social Services stepped back, if Social Services were more involved, the school stepped back,” said a parent interviewed as part of the report.

“It involved constant information sharing. This was just what we’d always wanted to happen. It makes so much more sense.”

The report has recommended more explicit Government advice for social care professionals from on how to effectively ensure that EHCPs remain fully or largely enforced over the course of the current lockdown, with schools not set to return to the classroom in England until March at the earliest.

In addition, the report suggests a complete reassessment of remote social care delivery advice to ensure that services are maintained in the current lockdown.

Schools need more trained staff to help support pupils where possible, as well as extra recourses and devices for schools to help fulfil EHCPs from home, the report concluded.

Director of ASK Research Amy Skipp, who led the project, criticised the Government for the not working to help local authorities, social services, and schools to fully and effectively support pupils with EHCPs during the first lockdown.

“This research shows a worrying situation that has not been well-managed by Government. The national policy has shown little understanding or regard for pupils with SEND and their families. Lessons desperately need to be learnt, and fast, or we are in danger of failing these potentially vulnerable families. Policy-makers need to pay urgent attention to our recommendations.”

“The current policy for this lockdown is that all pupils with an education, health and care plan (EHCP) should be in school. Firstly, it is not clear if this is safe for staff, pupils and their families. Secondly, it is impossible for most special schools and colleges to provide without extra trained staff, space and resources. Given that not all these pupils can be in school full-time – including those who are medically vulnerable – special schools and colleges need extra help to support these children at home as well as their families.”

Eleanor Ireland, Education Programme Head at the Nuffield Foundation said that special education settings were “being asked to provide the impossible” and urged the Government to take note of the experiences of school leaders and parents outlined in the report.

“[The Government is asking schools] to keep all their pupils in school or college while complying with safety guidance that does not recognise how their needs differ to those in mainstream schools. This is detrimental not only to the education of pupils with SEND, but in many cases also to the development of more fundamental skills such as mobility and communication.

“The government needs to listen to the experience of school leaders and parents and to provide more tailored and comprehensive guidance and support,” Ireland concluded.

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