29th June 2020

What a strange world we are living in at the moment

What a strange world we are living in at the moment Cover Photo

Douglas Silas, of Douglas Silas Solicitors, looks at the potential impact upon the SEN sector of the coronavirus crisis

As you read this, we may have already started to try to get back to some degree of normality, but as I write this, we are still living in a strange new world that has been taken over by the Coronavirus at the moment.

Many millions of people are now in ‘lockdown’ across the UK (and billons globally), aside from leaving their home to get essentials, to get their one hour a day of exercise, or because they are considered to be ‘key workers’ whose job is considered a critical service to our nation.

So where do children and young people with SEN stand in all of this?

Well, we are just a few weeks now into school closures and people are already getting used to home working and/or educating and amusing their school/college-age children at home. Although when school closures were announced, there was the theoretical request for some schools to remain open for children and young people who were considered ‘vulnerable’ (i.e. those with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan) or a social worker), or children of ‘key workers’; practically, many children and young people with EHC plans have been kept off school by their parents for varying reasons.

These include things like: not wanting their child being exposed to further risk of contracting the virus (or bringing it into their home); because they are concerned that the ’education’ received at school will only really be ‘care’ (and not what they actually require in their EHC plan); or that their child will just become more confused and anxious if asked to attend a different school to that which they normally do or being with a new peer group that may be different or less understanding of them than their normal friends are.

In addition, there is a great difficulty for many children and young people, especially those with SEN, in distinguishing between doing schoolwork at school and being more relaxed at home.

Also, although special schools have been asked to remain open, many have actually been closed, due to staff shortages, or because they may be in the independent/non-maintained sector that is experiencing the same or other particular difficulties, including financially.

It is very important to bear in mind that there is no legal duty on parents to try to maintain the provision in their child’s EHC plan whilst they are out of school and trying to do so will be an impossible task, so parents should not feel they need to try to.

It seems to me that the best that can be achieved in these difficult times is to come up with some kind of alternative or different schedule for home-schooling that everyone can ‘buy into’.

Yet, as a result of all of this, we have also seen a rapid expansion in online learning and people adapting very quickly to do things in alternative ways, many of which have been very creative; although these do not really come anywhere near the personal help and one-to-one contact, which many children and young people with SEN require on a daily basis.

There is also the general view now, even in these comparatively early days, that schools are now going to remain closed for the summer term and may not open again until September. Therefore, for those children and young people transferring between phases of their education; whether that be from primary to secondary school, secondary school to post-16 education, or those leaving post-16/19 education generally to face the world, they may have effectively been stripped of their chance to say goodbye properly to their friends.

I have seen the following guidance produced for the current times, but which I think actually has a wider benefit for us all when looking to the future now when schools do reopen, which parents should probably still try to keep in mind when looking for a school for their child with SEN:

Keeping minds active and happy is the most important factor.

Work and tasks should suit the age range and capabilities of the children and expected outcomes should be flexible.

Variety is key and bite-sized chunks of work are more likely to be completed and could be part of a bigger project.

Set tasks that all pupils can complete to some degree of success, with extra and more complex or additional tasks for the most able pupils.

Tasks that cover different areas of the curriculum allows pupils to choose those that interest them and makes it more likely that they will complete them.

Post-16 learners might be able to carry out more open-ended, independent work, but structure and guidance is still needed for them.

Many children need a lot of guidance when working and cannot be left for long periods of time to complete complex tasks.

Parents might struggle to assist with schoolwork for a number of reasons - parents cannot be expected to become teachers.

We cannot expect pupils or parents to replicate the classroom at home.

Helping with gardening, cooking and washing can all be “educational”.

As I say, it’s a strange world we are living in at the moment, but maybe we can take away something positive for the future from this awful situation…

For more information about Douglas Silas Solicitors visit www.specialeducationalneeds.co.uk