This series covers both residential and mainstream education and is written by Dr Rona Tutt, a former Chair of NAHT's Special Education Needs Committee.
A month or so on from my previous summary when I mentioned the uncertainty school leaders and their schools were facing, there is now the added pressure of trying to accommodate more pupils as the weeks go by. The pattern that is emerging is that there is no pattern, while everyone tries to reconcile the idea of social distancing with the social setting of a school.
1. Public Accounts Committee’s report and the DfE’s SEND review
This is the first time I can remember writing about the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which is the Commons Select Committee tasked with holding the government to account for the efficiency and effectiveness of public spending. At the beginning of May, PAC published a report, Support for Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. Although there are several recommendations, the summary on page three sums up their findings:
“We remain to be convinced that the DfE has sufficient grip on what needs to be done to tackle the growing pressures on the SEND system. In September 2019, the DfE announced a major review of SEND provision, promising to improve services and address what it described as the ‘postcode lottery’ that children and families often face. The Department has given few details about the review and has not indicated when it will be completed. However, the weaknesses in support for children with SEND are already well known—what we expect from the Department now is concrete action to address these significant failings.”
At a recent meeting of the National SEND Forum (NSENDF), I had the opportunity to ask Andre Imich, SEND Professional Adviser at the DfE, what had happened to the review. He explained that it was still going on in the background but had, inevitably, been delayed by people being siphoned off to concentrate on covid-19.
2. The Coronavirus Act 2020 and SEND provision
I mentioned previously that the Coronavirus Act 2020 gave the secretary of state powers to issue a notice to say he would be making temporary changes to aspects of SEND law. He issued one such notice at the end of April and, as it only lasts a month, he has already issued a second one which lasts until 30 June. To find out exactly what this means, updated information is available here.
3. Personal protective equipment (PPE)
On 1 June the government updated its Guidance – Coronavirus (COVID-19) implementing protective measures in education and childcare settings. As well as information about the opening up of schools to more pupils, there is a section on personal protective equipment (PPE). This states that if PPE is needed and schools do not have it or they do not have enough, they should approach the local authority (LA). If the LA is unable to help directly, the LA should approach the local resilience forum (LRF), which is responsible for allocating stock
Further information can be found here.
4. School exclusion
The DfE has recently announced new statutory guidance covering the temporary changes they have made to the school exclusion process. This gives schools, parents and LAs greater flexibility during the outbreak. Included is a section on remote access meetings and timescales. The arrangements came into force on 1 June 2020 and will apply until 24 September 2020. There is also advice on what to do if an exclusion or a review of an exclusion was underway before 1 June but the process has yet to be completed.
5. £37 million to support children with complex needs
On 19 May, the DfE announced £37 million to help low-income families to support children who have complex needs or are seriously ill. This is designed to help more than 75,000 families in England. The money will be for vital equipment, including computers and tablets, specialist equipment and educational toys, as well as larger items such as refrigerators.
£10 million of this total is earmarked to ease the difficulties for parents having to educate and look after children who are staying at home more than usual. These grants are being administered by Family Fund, who has announced that the Welsh government is also providing new funding.
6. Proposals from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) re the disadvantage gap
In a policy paper entitled Preventing the disadvantage gap from increasing during and after the Covid-19 pandemic, the EPI has set out proposals to ensure that disadvantaged children don’t fall further behind. One of its ideas is to have a one-year national catch up volunteer scheme, in which “retired or inactive teachers” return for a limited time to help the most disadvantaged and vulnerable pupils catch up on learning missed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
7. Research into autistic school staff in the UK
Some of you may have responded to a short pilot survey sent out at the end of 2019 by Dr Rebecca Wood, senior lecturer in special education at the University of East London, as part of her research into autistic school staff in the UK. The project is mentored by Professor Francesca Happe, who is a founding member of the National Forum for Neuroscience and Special Education (NFNSE) which is hosted by NAHT.
Rebecca's aim has been to find out what kind of issues impact on autistic educators and to gain an understanding of how to improve their access to work, their well-being and career progression. Her initial findings, based on the survey and a range of participants including head teachers, SENCOs, teachers and TAs, suggest that a number of autistic school staff feel neither understood nor supported by their employers. Sensory issues, as a result of the noise and general busyness of schools, was also problematic for some autistic staff. Nevertheless, the majority of participants expressed a high degree of satisfaction with their work and some felt supported by colleagues.
Rebecca has sent the link to a summary report on the initial findings, which can be downloaded from: https://repository.uel.ac.uk/item/87w2v. She is now developing the next stage of the research which will include interviews with participants, and incorporate issues arising from the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting lockdown. This is a very exciting and novel piece of research and I’ll keep you in touch with its progress.
8. The nasen awards 2020
These annual SEND awards are open for nominations until 17 July. There are 13 awards this year and you can nominate as many people as you like in the following categories:
- The innovation award for technology
- The David Ryan publication award 2020
- The nasen award for early years provision
- The nasen award for primary provision
- The nasen award for secondary provision
- The nasen award for 16-25 provision
- Provision of the year award
- The nasen award for co-production with children and young people and their families
- Young person/youth (up to 25 years) achievement award
- nasen teacher of the year award
- SEND leader of the year award
- Learning support staff member of the year award
- The international provision of the year award
Shortlisted entries will be invited to the awards ceremony which will take place on the 16 October, at the Waldorf Hilton Hotel, London. Nomination forms can be downloaded here.
And if it all gets too much and you feel like a change of occupation, the DfE is looking to staff their new rapid rebuttal unit. Two posts are being advertised whose role will be to make sure misleading content is rebuffed before reaching the mainstream and the public isn’t deceived by “so-called fake news”. I’m not sure why the DfE is looking for people with imagination and creativity, but an additional draw it mentions is the opportunity to work closely with ministers.
And, finally, I hope you continue to display the extraordinary resilience that has kept you going until now. Good luck to secondary school leaders as well, who may be joining in that search for more space indoors and outside in which to spread out their pupils.