Monday 20th April COVID-19 Update

DfE finally released the SEND Risk Assessment guidance yesterday at tea time. You can download it from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-send-risk-assessment-guidance  The guidance has been waiting for release for several weeks. Whilst it is by no means perfect in answering all schools’ concerns, it did at least go through a process of consultation with some key stakeholders, including NASS.

The guidance centres on the need to have good risk assessments in place to decide which children are safe to be at home and how best to support those in and out of school. The guidance states that LAs should be risk assessing BUT says there is not a need to do new risk assessments if these already exist. I suspect you may have to remind some LAs of this several times! The guidance does leave the door open for LAs to assess that a child is safer in school when a school has assessed that they are safer to remain at home. LAs retain ultimate responsibility for securing provision and my sense is that schools would need strong evidence to refute a LA view that a child needs to be in school. I think we are going to need to test out how this works in practice.

The guidance also talks about whether or not it is sustainable for parents and carers to maintain a child at home. As time goes on, it is likely that you will face more requests for children to return to school on this basis. However, the guidance does mention that some children may be at home because their school can’t sustain the level of staffing needed to keep them safe. This suggests that any push for children to return will need to be balanced against schools’ own risk assessments of safe staffing levels. There is a continued emphasis on good communications between all parties.

As discussed previously, there have been no legal changes to SEND law enacted to date. Technically, both the SEND Code of Practice and Children and Families Act apply in full, although it is highly unlikely that they could be enforced in the current circumstances. DfE is likely to be working this week on what changes to SEND law may be applied and I understand that NASS will be consulted. I know our members are particularly concerned about time limits for responding and being directed to take a child without having met them.

The guidance maintains the view that staff in schools ONLY need PPE if a young person is displaying symptoms. This is the most unhelpful bit of the guidance and was written before last week’s push to get PPE into both adult and children’s social care. We will push to get this element of the guidance revised but in the short term, it may be helpful for schools that don’t have access to PPE to know that they are not in breach of any guidance for schools.

A new SEND Reference Group has been convened to support DfE with its messaging and guidance-writing on SEND and special schools. NASS will be represented on the group and has an additional ally in our trustee Mark Dale-Emberton, who will sit as a rep of NAHT. The group also features reps from nasen, Natspec, Whole School SEND and Special Schools Voice, amongst others. We meet virtually for the first time this week.

Yesterday, Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson hosted the daily COVID-19 press briefing. He stated that there is no date planned for when the majority of children will return to school. He is under pressure from unions not to send children back too quickly and it is highly likely that if and when there is a return, it will be staggered with reduced access and part-time schooling likely to be a feature for some time. He announced an extra £1.6 billion to go to local authorities and suggested that this should be used to support vulnerable children. However, there has not yet been any guidance on how the funding could or should be used and I don’t know if there will be expectations that it could be used on schools.

Williamson also announced the opening of the new, online Oak National Academy. This is a large collection of lessons and resources, designed to be accessed by children and families at home. There is a section of SEND resources available from: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/help-children-with-send-continue-their-education-during-coronavirus-covid-19 and we expect there to be online lessons too.

As ever, we will wait to see how the guidance is interpreted by local authorities and we are happy to think through any sticky points with you.

With all of our good wishes for the week ahead

Claire, Karen, Kate and Jenny

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