by Douglas Silas
Specialist SEN Solicitor
Please note that the information below is general in nature
and based on information garnered from public media sources
As many people, both professionally and personally will already be aware, many schools are now closing because of the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic.
I thought that it would therefore be helpful to compile here as much (clear) information as I can from what we have gleaned on the internet, about what happens to SEN provision now, which I have done in the style of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions).
(1) What is the current situation?
The Secretary of State for Education has announced that most schools are to close on Friday 20 March 2020, but that education is going to still be provided for some categories of children/young people (considered to be ‘vulnerable’), as follows:
The Government guidance has also said that it wants to keep parents in work who are doing vital jobs to support crucial sectors that ensure the country continues to function amid the coronavirus pandemic. Therefore, a skeleton network of schools and nurseries is set to remain open. Special schools are expected to remain open during the closures. The Government is also advising parents to speak to their LA if their child’s school is closed and it will then be their duty to redirect them to a local school that their child can attend, if necessary.
The Government guidance further says that, if it is at all possible for children to be at home, then they should be, but if a child/young person needs specialist support, is vulnerable or has a parent who is a critical worker, then educational provision will be available for them. It is not yet known whether all schools will remain open. The government though is encouraging Local Authorities (LAs) to keep residential special schools and specialist colleges open if possible. Teachers and other staff will continue to work, but many will now do so remotely/online.
Finally, the guidance has said:‘We should like to reassure parents that they are the best judge of what is right for their child and will not be penalised for keeping a child at home.’
(2) What does this mean?
Theoretically, this means that schools are being asked to continue to provide care for a number of pupils whose parents are ‘key workers’,* but they will be closed to the majority from Monday 23 March 2020.
Also, provision will still need to continue for children/young people with EHC Plans. Special schools should remain open during the closures, whilst educational settings generally will continue to cater for vulnerable children and pupils whose parents are key workers. LAs still have an obligation to carry out EHC assessments, but staff may be unable to meet deadlines.
Yet, what this means in practice has not been clarified at the time of my writing this, so it is very hard for me to say at this stage exactly what the practical implications will be. There is also not enough info or guidance yet on how therapy/provision will/can be provided outside of school. It seems though that the majority of children/young people who receive SEN support, but do not have an EHC Plan will be expected to stay at home, unless they have a social worker or parent/carer who is a key worker.
All I would say for now though is that the strict legal duty for the LA to ‘deliver’ provision in an EHC Plan and all children/young people may be watered down and children/young people are expected to continue to attend school if they have one parent who is classified by the government as a key worker.
Finally (in summary) Government guidance also says the following:
(3) Can you refer me to any other resources about what is happening?
There are a number of useful resources now on the internet, which can provide helpful information, which you will find on the websites of the following:
*Who are ‘key workers’?
The Department for Education has published a list of “key workers” whose children will be prioritised for schooling during general closures. The best summary I have seen was on the ‘Evening Standard’s website and said as follows:
‘The Department for Education said: "If your work is critical to the COVID-19 response, or you work in one of the critical sectors listed below, and you cannot keep your child safe at home, then your children will be prioritised for education provision."
(a) Health and social care - This includes frontline health and social care staff - such as doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, as well as support and specialist staff in the health and social care sector. In addition, those working in supply chains, including producers and distributors of medicines and personal protective equipment are included.
(b) Education and childcare - This includes nursery, teaching staff and social workers, as the department said these workers are required to deliver their plans.
(c) Key public services - Those required to run the justice system, religious staff, as well as those responsible for managing the deceased and journalists providing public service broadcasting are on the list.
(d) Local and national government - The list "only includes administrative occupations essential to the effective delivery of the Covid-19 response or delivering essential public services", including payment of benefits.
(e) Food and other necessary goods - The list includes those involved in the production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery of food.
(f) Public safety and national security - Police, support staff, Ministry of Defence civilian staff and armed forces personnel are on the list, along with fire and rescue staff, as well as those responsible for border security, prison and probation staff.
(g) Transport - The list includes those who will keep "air, water, road and rail passenger and freight transport modes operating during the COVID-19 response".
(h) Utilities, communication and financial services - Staff required to keep oil, gas, electricity, water and sewerage operations running are on the list, along with those in the civil nuclear, chemical and telecommunications sectors. Those in postal services and working to provide essential financial services provision are also included.