Sheffield City Council has published general information for parents about the full reopening of schools here. However, we know that parents of children with additional needs have some very specific questions and concerns. We have compiled this article to try and address some of them.
What about children who cannot follow the new hygiene and social distancing rules?
The government has told schools to ensure that appropriate support is made available for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), for example by deploying teaching assistants and enabling specialist staff to work with pupils in different classes or year groups.
Government guidance states that: “Some pupils with complex needs will struggle to maintain as good respiratory hygiene as their peers, for example those who spit uncontrollably or use saliva as a sensory stimulant. This should be considered in risk assessments in order to support these pupils and the staff working with them, and is not a reason to deny these pupils face-to-face education.”
The government has also pointed out that staff may not be able to avoid close contact with pupils who have complex needs or who need close contact care. The educational and care support for these pupils should be provided as normal.
The guidance also emphasises the need for good transition planning: “Some pupils with SEND (whether with education, health and care plans or on SEN support) will need specific help and preparation for the changes to routine that this will involve, so teachers and special educational needs coordinators should plan to meet these needs, for example using social stories.”
If you are concerned that specific measures could have a negative impact on your child, contact your SENCO as soon as possible to discuss how these could be adapted. Schools must be prepared to make reasonable adjustments to their policies and procedures to accommodate the needs of disabled children.
What about provision that goes across bubbles, like after-school clubs or intervention groups?
Out-of-school provision should keep children within their year groups or bubbles where possible, or use small, consistent groups if not. Schools can allow children from different bubbles to mix where this is necessary to deliver specialist teaching.
What about children with challenging behaviour?
The government has acknowledged that there is likely to be an increase in social, emotional and mental health issues when pupils return to school. Schools have been advised to consider any challenging behaviours or social or emotional problems as a response to the lockdown and offer additional support, access to external services (like educational psychologists, counsellors and social workers) and phased returns where needed. There should be a focus on nurture and wellbeing at the start of the autumn term.
Most schools will have updated their behaviour policies, particularly with regard to the new hygiene rules and staying within “bubbles”. It is important to remember that equalities legislation requires schools to make reasonable adjustments for pupils with disabilities. This might mean disregarding behaviour that is a direct consequence of a pupil’s disability, making reasonable adjustments to manage such behaviour, or considering alternative, more appropriate punishments. Schools will have to balance the rights of disabled children against the safety of their classmates and teachers.
If you are concerned that your child might be at risk of exclusion, contact Genine Nuttall in the local authority’s Exclusions Team (0114 2736197 or email@example.com), or get in touch with SENDIAS (0114 273 6009 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Will therapies and interventions resume in September?
Yes, specialists, therapists, clinicians and other support staff for pupils with SEND should provide interventions as usual. In Sheffield, some therapies and appointments may continue to be virtual where necessary. Staff delivering interventions may need to work across bubbles and settings. These interventions should be provided as normal, but staff should be particularly rigorous about hand washing and respiratory hygiene. The Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust are currently reviewing face-to-face services for schools and all staff will follow NHS guidelines on where and when it is necessary to wear PPE.
Will Education Health and Care (EHC) plans be enforceable again?
Yes. The duty to arrange the provision described in EHC plans was temporarily relaxed in May, June and July due to the coronavirus outbreak. This is no longer the case. From 1 August, local authorities are once again under an absolute legal duty to arrange the special educational provision described in a child’s EHC plan, and the same applies to Clinical Commissioning Groups in relation to the health provision. The only exception would be if more flexibility was needed to respond to a local outbreak.
The timescales relating to EHC needs assessments and annual reviews were also temporarily relaxed in May, to give local authorities more flexibility in responding to the coronavirus outbreak. These changes remain in force until 25 September.
Could my child drop some subjects so they can concentrate on catching up in others?
Schools may have to change the curriculum at the start of the school year to allow pupils to catch up on any content that they have missed. Schools can suspend some subjects for some pupils in exceptional circumstances, subject to discussion with parents. The government has said that schools should aim to return to the normal curriculum in all subjects for all pupils by summer term 2021.
Will there be any changes to exams?
For pupils going into Y6, SATS are expected to take place as normal in summer 2021.
For pupils going into Y11 and Y13, the government is planning on the basis that GCSEs and A-levels will take place in summer 2021, with some adaptations – for example, a delayed start to the exam season and changes to coursework requirements. More information will be published in the autumn term.
How will SEN transport be different?
The transport service has introduced a range of safety measures, such as spreading out passengers, additional cleaning of vehicles, providing PPE for drivers and escorts, and keeping windows open during journeys. Parents can choose to take their child to school in their own vehicle and claim reimbursement for their travel costs.
Further information is available in this letter to parents (dated 20th August 2020). Information for children is available in the form of a Social Story and two Easy Read documents, one with symbols and one with photos.