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Special schools, pupils with SEND/ALN and acute medical needs

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A message from NAHT policy director James Bowen to members

It is hard to overstate the scale of the challenge that all school leaders are currently facing. One of the biggest concerns I know we all have is for vulnerable pupils, including those with complex or acute medical needs. Many of these pupils will be in specialist provision requiring a multi-agency team to keep them safe.

We have heard a wide range of concerns from members about this particular group of pupils. These concerns range from how best to protect and manage increasing risks to these pupils right now, through to how we can continue to support their needs in the event of widespread school closures. I appreciate how determined you are to do all you can to keep pupils safe and well. Still, I also understand you are trying to do this in the face of enormous challenges, often related to maintaining safe staffing levels.

Having heard directly from members in special provision, I know that many of you are immensely frustrated at the lack of specific guidance coming from the government relating to your pupils and settings.

I want to reassure you that in my meeting with the Secretary of State yesterday, this issue was the very first on my agenda. While I did not leave with a complete set of answers, I had firm assurances that the Department for Education was working on this as we spoke. We will continue that dialogue today as I appreciate that clear guidance cannot come soon enough. Similar conversations have taken place in Wales, and I am pleased to say that the Welsh government has said it will publish new advice on this issue very soon.

Over the last week or so, our team of specialist advisors has been speaking with members from special schools to offer guidance and support wherever we can. We are also keeping our FAQs on coronavirus under constant review. Wherever we can publish our own guidance concerning special schools and vulnerable pupils, we will seek to do so.

I do want to remind you of my email to members yesterday. While the government's guidance remains to keep schools open wherever possible, school leaders will still have to make their own decisions based on risk assessments and conversations with the local authority. If it is not safe to keep your school open, you may have no other option than to implement a phased, partial or full closure. I know this is not something you will want to do, but it may become necessary in some cases.

Thank you again to those of you who have been in touch. I will ensure your concerns continue to be discussed at the highest level within the Department for Education.

First published 17 March 2020