SEN Round-up in the second week of COVID-19 lockdown.

SEN Roundup…as of 8th April 2020.

It’s the Easter break now for most schools and although many remain open for key workers there isn’t quite the same pressure around trying to deliver a remote curriculum whilst juggling the regular day to day job under rather strange circumstances.

The delivery of a remote curriculum has confused me.  The government made it clear that the national curriculum was suspended and that schools would open as childcare facilities, they cancelled exams and assessments.  Yet as teachers, many defaulted to the workpack and online lessons along with trying to set up virtual classrooms to deliver ‘teaching’.  I have grave concerns about this.  Many children, including those in more affluent families, don’t have the access to the technology to be able to sit through these ‘lessons’.  As a mum of four, two of which are directly affected by the school closures, I certainly don’t have enough devices to pass around them for a ‘lesson by lesson’ approach.  I’m still working full time, I worked from home anyway, which means I’m not going to be checking every 15 minutes whether they’ve moved on to the next questions in the workpack that I had to print out for them (Amazon order with more ink and paper comes tomorrow).

As usual, it goes back to the guidance being provided and enough ambiguity within it for everyone to take their own interpretation – I accept my interpretation may be entirely incorrect.  Another case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t…and of course, at the ‘end’ of all this, it will be the schools’ who take the blame.

Anyway, over the last two weeks of the school closures there have been lots of new information documents flying around.  And they are all official ones!  I had a really interesting conversation with a couple of other SEN consultants the other day, and we are really worried about the information which isn’t official going out to schools and families.  Advice on how to ‘teach’ their child, or statements telling schools they don’t need to undertake statutory reviews on EHCPs and the timeline has been suspended.  To be fair, the Facebook groups seem to generate more of this false information than Twitter (where it is quickly shot or shut down).  I’m always really careful to try and give my answers along with its credible source.  Unless of course I’m expressing an opinion, in which case I make that obvious too.

Just in case you missed it (or would like to be able to find it quickly) here’s a summary of the information that has come out recently

First of all, we start with the DfE and government updates.  Theirs is the guidance we need to follow…including their ‘must’ and ‘should’ statements. 

This website has all the relevant documents hyperlinked on one page, and of course they get updated.  You are also able to access this link to this from here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-schools-and-other-educational-settings

There is a main document that everyone has surely seen by now, School Closures.  This is the main document about school closures and has been updated several times since it was first published on the 22nd March:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-school-closures If you read nothing else, make sure you stay on top of this guide.  Use the favourites button and check in every 4-5 days for any changes.  Alternatively, you could always sign up for the DfE alerts and get a notification as soon as they are released (usually between 10am to 12pm if it’s an update, or 11pm-1am if it’s a new document or has massive changes to implement by 9am…or is that just coincidence?)

On the 7 April 2020 they updated sections on funding, holidays and practicalities.  I’ll come back to this in a moment as the funding document is a standalone document and very interesting.

The 3 April 2020 added information about safeguarding and updated information about workforce and critical workers.  Again, there is a standalone document but the general summary is within here.  If you are a safeguarding lead it is definitely better to read the full document.

31 March 2020 Added information about the workforce, hubs and links to other guidance.

27 March 2020 Updated questions on ‘How are vulnerable children defined’, ‘Is it compulsory for parents of vulnerable children to accept their place offer’, ‘Will critical workers or parents of vulnerable children be penalised if they do not send their child to school’, ‘What should schools do if vulnerable children do not attend school’ and what public health advice should schools follow’.

Many of the other documents on the site reference the different sections in the main document and provide further clarity (and occasionally contradiction!) Not all are directly related to SEN…but they are useful to be aware of.   

There is a fascinating document called maintaining educational provision (it was the second on their list) which was issued on 19th March.  I say fascinating as I would assume this document might advise us what ‘educational provision’ should look like whilst being ‘maintained’.  Instead it defines key workers and says if a child can be safely kept at home, then that is where they should be.  Talk about confusing.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-maintaining-educational-provision

Guidance for schools and other educational settings in providing advice about the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.  The document that reminds us all to wash our hands

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-educational-settings-about-covid-19/guidance-to-educational-settings-about-covid-19

Implementing Social distancing in schools and other settings

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-implementing-social-distancing-in-education-and-childcare-settings/coronavirus-covid-19-implementing-social-distancing-in-education-and-childcare-settings

Guidance on VULNERABLE children (FAQs)

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-on-vulnerable-children-and-young-people/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-on-vulnerable-children-and-young-people

Specific information for Early Years settings

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-early-years-and-childcare-closures/coronavirus-covid-19-early-years-and-childcare-closures

Safeguarding information

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-safeguarding-in-schools-colleges-and-other-providers/coronavirus-covid-19-safeguarding-in-schools-colleges-and-other-providers

Free School Meals.

Updated on 31st March to include the voucher scheme and again on 7th April for the Easter provision.  I’m not going to comment on Edenred (how do you pronounce that?) who seemed not to realise how many vouchers they would need to process…I’m pretty sure a quick google search would have told them how many schools and how many pupils are eligible for FSM across the country before they tendered for the contract!

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-free-school-meals-guidance/covid-19-free-school-meals-guidance-for-schools

Exceptional Funding.

The funding available to schools for the exceptional costs related to Covid-19.  These fall under three very specific headings and a school is not allowed to carry a surplus budget over to the next academic year if they want to apply.  The values are capped.  I was actually quite angry at this document when it was released, yesterday, the 7th April.  It’s more than 2 weeks since schools closed and in the original statement and documentation the government had said ANY additional expenditure related to the COVID-19 closures would be covered.  I know of schools who went out and bought tablets and dongles for their students who didn’t have internet access.  One school ordered full sets of CGP revision and workbooks for their Y10 cohort across every subject, so they could ‘stay on top’.  And several who engaged 1:1 online tutors, speech and language therapists and other services to ensure the needs of their SEN support students were met (I’m not going to discuss EHCPs here since they are covered by local authorities).  This funding document doesn’t allow for any of those costs to be recouped, only those related to premises being open, additional cleaning and those incurred in providing the meals before closure.  I pinged a quick email off to the DfE and actually got a response last night…they can only refund under those headings but if I wish to I can escalate it to the ESFA.  I’m not in a school, so schools will have to do that for themselves.
I was also surprised at the limits and that schools are expected to use any “savings”.  So, a school who has been savvy and was expecting to perhaps carry forward a couple of thousand into the next year to repair the school play equipment is now expected to spend that before applying for the funding grant.  To some extent that is fair, but if they had already commissioned the new play equipment in January then they would be able to apply for the grant without penalty.  The caps, £25000 for the smallest schools and £75000 for the largest seem reasonable…although I’m struggling to see how, under the categories given, a school would spend that much money!

Interestingly, staffing is not one of the categories under which exceptional funding applies…if staffing is an issue then a school is expected to speak with their regional school commissioner for advice…which I read as redeployment! 

SEN EHCP and top up funding and the provision for students with an EHCP remains the remit of the LA.

The three relevant paragraphs read as follows:

Local authorities will also continue to receive their high needs budgets and should continue to pay top-up and other high needs funding to schools. This will ensure that the employment and payment of staff supporting pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) can continue.

Similarly, where schools pay top-up or other funding for pupils attending alternative provision (AP), or pay for other SEND or AP services, we expect these payments to continue so that teachers and other staff can be paid in accordance with their existing employment contracts.

The additional funding set out in this guidance is not intended to cover any additional costs relating to changes in SEND provision organised by local authorities for individual children and young people with education, health and care (EHC) plans.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-financial-support-for-schools/school-funding-exceptional-costs-associated-with-coronavirus-covid-19-for-the-period-march-to-july-2020

Incidentally, if you need online speech and language therapy, I spoke with Martha Currie, Director of Mable Therapy earlier today and they still have some availability.  Drop me an email (abigail@sendcosolutions.co.uk) and I’ll put you in touch with each other.  In the meantime, I’m bending her arm to do a video with me on speech and language provision.

OFQUAL and exams.  This guidance aims to answer common questions in relation to the cancellation of GCSEs, AS and A levels due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in 2020.  It was updated on 3rd April to reflect the new OFQUAL information.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-cancellation-of-gcses-as-and-a-levels-in-2020?utm_source=815081fa-5744-4921-9f3a-7b12d617873e&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=govuk-notifications&utm_content=immediate

Specific information for FE

Operational guidance for further education (FE) providers on maintaining education and skills training provision. 

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-maintaining-further-education-provision

And what to do with apprentices…

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-apprenticeship-programme-response 

For residential settings

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-on-isolation-for-residential-educational-settings

And travel advice

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-travel-advice-for-educational-settings

Social Care Services

Advice about coronavirus (COVID-19) for local authorities and their partners to help support and protect vulnerable children.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-childrens-social-care-services

Information for NQTs

Guidance about changes to newly qualified teacher (NQT) induction during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-induction-for-newly-qualified-teachers

Initial Teacher Training (ITT)

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-initial-teacher-training-itt

Early Years and Childcare

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-early-years-and-childcare-closures

Information for parents/carers

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/closure-of-educational-settings-information-for-parents-and-carers

Online resources

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-online-education-resources/coronavirus-covid-19-list-of-online-education-resources-for-home-education

The DfE helpfully produced a list of online educational resources on the 7th March (in the holidays for most of us and only 2 weeks too late!) to help children learn from home and referenced the BBC programme of support.  The programs on their ‘approved’ list are being offered for free and there’s a legal disclaimer that the government takes no responsibility for the quality of those suggested.  The lists are broken into English, Maths, Science, PE, Wellbeing and SEND.  I wasn’t particularly impressed with the SEND list, feeling that the onus was still on parents and teachers to make the choices for the child as opposed to it being an educational app or program that the child could access.  In fact, their suggested apps and games have just 4 items on the list!  Of course, it assumes that families have access to the technology and online capabilities.  Having experienced a systemwide failure of Google services this afternoon (probably unnoticed if you were only using the browser…but slowed down emails and impacted on any hosted services) I have concerns that the whole infrastructure is about to implode!

From other sources

Chartered College COVID Hub:

MyCollege has a dedicated COVID-19 resources hub. This includes a range of resources such as reading lists, Compact Guides, and vlogs. They have also published the first posts on their Connect Blog, providing a platform to share how you and your schools are handling the current challenges.

https://my.chartered.college/resources/covid-19-support

The Coronavirus Act (If you really want to read the whole thing)

https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2020/7/contents/enacted/data.htm

Impact of the Coronavirus Act on EHCs

I recommend looking at the information provided by Hayley Masen (SENLegal) over on Special Needs Jungle

https://www.specialneedsjungle.com/latest-coronavirus-information-relevant-for-send-families/

She has four articles specifically related to EHCPs which are also available as an e-book (https://www.specialneedsjungle.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/The-Special-Needs-Jungle-Coronavirus-SEND-Law-ebook-With-SEN-lawyer-Hayley-Mason.pdf)  and Steve Broach discusses the direct impact of the Coronavirus Bill.  The page linked above also has links to other useful sources of information and guidance.  I had a really interesting conversation with Melinda Nettleton senior advisor over at SENLegal just as schools were being told to close and I hope to catch up with her soon about anything else we should be aware of.

My takeaway?  There are five documents or links from this video that I think every SENCO needs to be familiar with – and then anything relevant to your setting/role (eg. Exams, Safeguarding, FE)

School Closures (the overarching document): https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-school-closures

Hayley’s Coronavrius/SEND Law e-book: https://www.specialneedsjungle.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/The-Special-Needs-Jungle-Coronavirus-SEND-Law-ebook-With-SEN-lawyer-Hayley-Mason.pdf

Exceptional Funding: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-financial-support-for-schools/school-funding-exceptional-costs-associated-with-coronavirus-covid-19-for-the-period-march-to-july-2020

Online resources: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-online-education-resources/coronavirus-covid-19-list-of-online-education-resources-for-home-education

Guidance on vulnerable pupils: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-on-vulnerable-children-and-young-people/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-on-vulnerable-children-and-young-people

As usual, more questions than answers, despite all the information…and no, I don’t know when schools are going to go back!