With so much information about Coronavirus being published, we want to ensure you can easily access accurate information that may help you to make the best decisions for your family.
On this page, we have identified official Coronavirus information we know is relevant to families who have children with special educational needs and or disabilities.
We will endeavour to keep this page updated over the coming weeks.
If you have a child with an education, health and care plan (EHCP), the official government guidance is that a school will be made available to them, but if you can safely keep your child at home it is preferable to do so.
The Department for Education (DfE) helpline offers guidance to anyone with education-related questions on coronavirus from early years, primary and secondary schools, further education (6th form or college), higher education (universities) and also information for parents and carers.
Tel: 0800 046 8687 (open Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm), or email at DfE.firstname.lastname@example.org
Below you will find links to the following useful pages.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
A list of FAQs on how the COVID-19 measures will affect children and young people with special educational needs
What are children and young people with SEN’s entitlements when schools are closed?
All schools have been ordered to effectively close, retaining a skeleton staff to provide education for the children of key workers, and ‘vulnerable children’.
There is further guidance now available about who is a vulnerable child which can be found here.
Vulnerable children include those who have a social worker and those with an education, health and care (“EHC”) plan. The majority of children with SEN, who receive SEN Support at school but do not have an EHC plan, would be expected to stay home unless they have a social worker or a parent or carer who is a key worker.
The Government has now released further guidance linked here for schools, colleges and local authorities setting out their approach to maintaining educational provision.
This includes a full list of key workers which includes:
National Health Service
MOD civilians and Armed Forces personal (those engaged in delivery of key defence and national security outputs and the COVID 19 response)
Teachers and childcare staff
Care home workers
Police officers, community support, civilian staff
Prison officers or other probation staff
Key staff in local authorities (“LAs”) (which includes those specialist education professionals who must remain active during the COVID-19 response to ensure the delivery of the approach)
Environmental health officers
Highway Agency traffic officers
There is also recognition that there may be other children who schools want to support and the government states that it will support Head teachers to do so (although the detail of how is not clear).
However, the key message is: If it is at all possible for children to be at home, then they should be.
The fact that all children with EHC plans remain entitled to go to school would indicate that special schools (where all pupils have EHC plans) would be expected to stay open. However, we know this is not happening in all special schools, partly due to staff absence; in some cases it will simply not be feasible for a school to remain open.
The government’s advice is to speak to the local authority if your child’s school is closed and that it will be the local authority’s job to redirect you to a local school in your area that your child can attend. The Government had indicated in earlier announcements that schools in local areas may need to pool resources.
Therefore, our current advice is that a local solution is likely to be best. Talk to your school, or your local authority if the school has already closed, to find something that could be put in place.
If you feel strongly that your child needs to continue receiving (at least some) educational input, the key thing to flag is if there could be a risk to their health, wellbeing or safety if they do not receive a particular provision or intervention.
The Secretary of State may make orders pursuant to the draft Coronavirus Bill (explained in more detail here) which will make the Governments’ proposals more clear.
What if I don’t want to send my child to school, for example, because they have a weakened immune system?
If you feel it would be too high risk to send your child to school because they, or someone else in your family, are at particularly high risk, there is, of course, no requirement to send your child in. The guidance today is quite clear – if a vulnerable child can be at home, they should be.
Under the draft Coronavirus Bill, the criminal penalty for parents failing to send their children is likely to be temporarily disapplied, so far as it relates to the direction for schools to close.
If my child has an EHC plan, doesn’t the LA have a legal duty to deliver that provision?
From a legal perspective, this remains the case, and this is presumably why the Government has chosen to allow children with EHC plans to continue attending school. However, given the likely significant disruption to staffing, it may be very difficult for schools or LAs to deliver precisely the provision in the EHC plan, particularly over the next few weeks.
The draft Coronavirus Bill proposes two key amendments to the law:
The absolute duty to make the provision in an EHC plan (section 42 of the Children and Families Act 2014) may be temporarily amended to a ‘reasonable endeavours’ duty. This could be implemented via an order of the Secretary of State, which would have effect for one month (although further orders could be made if necessary). The order would need to set out why the Secretary of State considered this to be “appropriate and proportionate action in all the circumstances relating to the incidence or transmission of coronavirus”. This means that during the specified period the LA needs to do whatever it reasonably can to put provision in place, but if they cannot do so they would not necessarily be breaching the law.
The duty on schools to admit a child where the EHC plan names that school (section 43 of the Children and Families Act 2014) may be temporarily disapplied.
Again, if there could be a risk to the child or young person’s health, wellbeing or safety if they do not receive a particular provision or intervention, raise this with your school and LA without delay.
Will residential schools close?
The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, stated that, “We recognise that many special schools and residential settings will need to continue to look after their pupils.” He said special schools with residential placements would hopefully remain open and the government would be looking at them individually to see how they can stay open and have the right type of staffing.
Additionally, he indicated that the Government expects them to rely on supply teachers and for schools to stay open to support the children of key workers over the Easter holidays. He pledged to pay support staff who are only paid in term-time, if they show up during the Easter break.
We are aware that parents of children or young people in residential settings are likely to face unique challenges if their child needs to return home. Raise your concerns with the school and your LA (and local NHS body, if relevant), as soon as possible to try to work out the best solution.
The government has issued further guidance on isolation within residential settings which can be accessed here.
If my child was out of school before the school closures were ordered, do I still have an entitlement to alternative education?
If your child attends a Pupil Referral Unit or Alternative Provision, this setting may remain open to provide support for children in the ‘vulnerable’ category and/or children of key workers.
If your child was not receiving any education, it is likely to be very difficult to enforce the LA’s duty to provide education while schools, in general, remain closed, simply because almost all children are now in the same situation.
How long are schools likely to be closed?
At this stage no-one is able to say exactly how long schools will stay closed, though it seems clear it’s more likely to be a matter of months rather than weeks, depending on how the pandemic progresses. Mr Williamson told MPs he would be “guided by scientific and medical advice” on reopening. In practice they could remain closed until the start of the next school year in September.
What about home to school transport?
Mr Williamson indicated that school transport will hopefully continue, although there were “other strains within the transport network”.
If your child remains entitled to go to school but school transport has been stopped due to staff absences, speak to your school and LA about what temporary solutions may be able to be put in place.
Do the LA still need to carry out EHC needs assessments?
Currently, there is no indication that LAs will be relieved of this obligation – but again their ability to comply with deadlines may be hampered by staff absence.
Will SEND Tribunal appeals continue?
The SEND Tribunal has confirmed that hearings will be on paper or by telephone (and, where the technology permits, by video) starting on Monday 23 March 2020.
The Tribunal has asked parties not to call the Tribunal until 2 days before hearings if they haven’t heard anything as, like every public service, they are affected by staff shortages as a result of COVID-19.
With these measures, it is expected that there should be no need to adjourn hearings if the parties are ready to go ahead, even though they may not be able to take place in person.
You can find further guidance on how telephone and video hearings will be used during the COVID-19 outbreak via the link to our website above and here.
Will annual reviews still need to be carried out?
Under the draft Coronavirus Bill, the requirement to carry out annual reviews may also be temporarily disapplied where this is considered to be “appropriate and proportionate”.
If you feel there is an urgent need to amend the provision or placement in the child or young person’s EHC plan, speak to the school and the LA about this to see what review mechanisms could be put in place.