Q and A about coronavirus and school, education and SEND


These are some of the questions we’re getting from parents and carers. We’ve done our best to answer what we can, though as you know things are changing from day to day. We’ll update the information as and when we know more, or when things change.

We also have a webpage with a list of useful resources, a webpage about changes in the law around EHC needs assessments and plans and one with Q and As about managing at home

These are the main places where you can find up to date information about what’s happening in England and in Devon.

  • England wide guidance for schools, colleges and local authorities on the Gov.uk website.
  • Further guidance about how children with social workers, those with EHC plans and other vulnerable children and young people will be supported was published on the Gov.uk website.
  • Devon County Council has a Children Education and families page, which includes information about SEND and social care.
  • Contact, the charity for Families with disabled children, has a webpage with lots of information about support for children with disabilities and complex health needs, benefits and financial support and coping at home.
  • Babcock provide specialist education services in Devon and they have a webpage with sources of support and advice.
  • Devon CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) has information about accessing health services and getting health support for your child.

If you’ve got a question you’d like us to try and answer, send it in via email or send us a message on Facebook.

How will nurseries, schools and colleges be reopening from June?

Government guidance about how early years childcare settings, schools and colleges will gradually reopen came out on 11 May. We have covered the main things the guidance says here, but you can find out all the details by looking at the full guidance for parents and carers.
From the week beginning 1 June, the following will start to happen:
  • nurseries and other early year providers, including childminders will be open to all children
  • primary school buildings will be open to children in nursery (where they have them), reception, year 1 and year 6
  • secondary schools, sixth form and further education colleges will start some face to face support for year 10 and 12 pupils, although this won’t be on a full-time basis at this stage
  • all schools and childcare providers will carry on offering places to vulnerable children and children of critical workers
  • special schools, special post-16 institutions and hospital schools will begin gradually getting children and young people back into school – this will be done based on risk assessments rather than getting specific year groups back
  • children in reception, year 1 and year 6 can start going back to alternative provision places and young people in year 10 and 11 can start to have some face to face support

The Government are ‘strongly encouraging’ children and young people in the school years mentioned, to go to school or take part in the support that’s offered. That’s unless they are self-isolating or they have other reasons for not being in school (such as shielding because of a health condition).

We know that lots of parents are worried about sending their children back to school for all kinds of reasons. Nurseries, schools and colleges will be working hard to make plans for having children back on their premises. That will include following safe distancing guidelines wherever possible, ensuring good hand hygiene and having safe staffing levels. Until firm plans are in place it’s a good idea not to contact the school with queries.

If you decide not to send your child to school, tell their teacher or the SENCO so that they know you’re choosing to do that. Parents won’t be fined for non-attendance at the moment.

Some groups of children are expected and encouraged to be in school:

  • vulnerable children in all year groups
  • children who have a social worker, unless their social worker decides that they are at less risk at home or in their placement
  • children who have an education health and care (EHC) plan are expected to be in school if their needs can be as safely or more safely met there
  • other children who the school, college or local authority sees are vulnerable who don’t fall into the groups above

Nurseries, schools and colleges can be flexible in the way they give support and education to those children in school during this time. They will be thinking about

  • children’s mental health and wellbeing
  • where pupils are in their learning, in order to make any changes to the curriculum over the coming weeks
  • prioritising those children with the highest level of need and supporting children in transition years, such as year 6

For young people in years 10 and 12, the government is asking schools and colleges to add some face to face support to the education they are already getting. This won’t be on a full-time basis at this stage and schools and colleges won’t be expected to offer a full timetable.

 

Who can be in school while we’re still in ‘lockdown’?

We don’t know when schools are going to be fully opened again to all children and young people, but it’s likely to be some weeks away yet. The essential message remains the same – if children can stay safely at home, they should, to limit the chance of the virus spreading.

Those children who can be in school come from one of two groups:

  • The children of key workers, such as NHS staff, police, teaching staff and delivery drivers who need to be able to go to work to support vital services. The government’s full list of keyworker roles is on the Gov.uk website.  If you or your partner (or both of you) is a key worker and your children can’t be safely cared for at home, then they can go to school.
  • Vulnerable children, which includes those supported by social care, those with safeguarding and welfare needs, children in care, young carers, disabled children and children and young people with education, health and care (EHC) plans. There may be some children not in these groups who are offered a place in school, who the local authority recognises are vulnerable too.

Your child is expected to be in school if they have a social worker, as long as they don’t have underlying health conditions that put them at severe risk. If you don’t want your child to be in school for whatever reason, your social worker and staff at the school will talk to you about it to find out why.

Children who don’t fall into these groups will be expected to stay at home. That includes children who have SEN support at school,  but don’t have an EHC plan.

Schools may have to work together to make sure children are well looked after and put in place solutions such as a shorter day or a reduced timetable. This might mean your child isn’t in their usual school or with their usual teacher. The information we are getting from parents is schools and academy chains are all doing things slightly differently.

Some mainstream schools in Devon will be closed – you can see which ones on the DCC website.  Some special schools in Devon are open and some aren’t. There is a list of schools that are closed and partly closed on the Devon County Council website.

Independent nurseries, private schools and sixth forms should also follow the Government guidance. The government has said they will provide financial support for these schools. If you child is in one of these schools, the school should be talking directly to you about plans for the next few weeks.

What about children with EHC plans?

If your child has an EHC Plan and you and the school feel they’re be best off at home, then let the school know what you’re doing and keep them at home.

If you have a child with an EHC plan and they’re at home with you, but your situation changes or you’re worried about everyone’s safety at home, contact your child’s school. For now, all children with EHC plans are regularly risk assessed by schools and the local authority and should be offered support based on that. So, if your situation changes tell the school SENCO and ask how you can get more support.  Don’t try and manage until things reach crisis – get help early on.

What about children being assessed for an EHC plan who don’t yet have one?

If the local authority are in the process of the EHC needs assessment but haven’t yet issued an EHC plan for your child, then they won’t automatically be able to be in school as a ‘vulnerable child’. But if you feel that your child needs to be in school, then their school or college and the local authority can do a risk assessment and offer you support if it’s needed.

If your child needs to be in school, make sure you check the DCC Schools Closure Website to see whether their school opens after the Easter holidays on Tuesday 14th April or not. Some schools may open later in the week.

Are all nurseries, schools and further education colleges still open?

The message coming from the Government as of 8th April is “We are asking schools, colleges, nurseries, childminders and other registered childcare settings to remain open for children of critical workers and vulnerable children where they can.”

That means that many nurseries, schools and colleges should physically be open to take in children and young people who need to be there. But some may not be open if they’re very short of staff. If that’s the case then the school and local authority will work together to make sure there is another local nursery, school or college where your child can go.

Remember too that even if your child isn’t in the school or college building, they’re still ‘in school’ during term time. School and college staff are still working and available to support your child or young person. You can contact school staff and the SENCO to ask for help and support with your child’s learning or if you’re finding home learning challenging.

Is school transport still running?

If your child or young person needs to be in school and needs transport to get there, tell the school as soon as you can. They will contact the school transport team at Devon County Council to arrange transport to your child’s usual school, or to a different school if your child needs to go elsewhere.

If your child usually has transport to school, it’s worth remembering that things aren’t operating as they usually would because staff may not be in work for whatever reason. This means that the company providing the transport and the bus or taxi staff may not be the same ones your child is used to.

We don’t yet know what the situation will be with transport when schools start to reopen.

How will children and young people with an EHC plan be supported?

Being in school or not
Your child’s school or college should do a risk-assessment and talk to you and the local authority to decide whether they need to be in school or college, or whether their needs can be met at home. This could mean carers or health professionals coming to your home to give any essential care if needed.
When doing a risk assessment schools and colleges must look at the following things:
  • the potential health risks to each child from coronavirus, taking advice from health professionals if it’s needed
  • the risk to a child if some or all parts of the support in their EHC plan can’t be given, and the risk if they can’t be supported in the usual way or in the usual place
  • how well you’re able to look after them at home
  • the possible impact to a child’s wellbeing of changes to their routine or the way in which support is given
Many children and young people with an EHC plan will be able to stay at home with support and care from parents or carers. Some children and young people with significant learning difficulties who need a lot of personal care and support will need to stay in school, especially those in residential schools and colleges. The local authority will work with those schools and with parents to make sure each child is safe.
Meeting your child’s needs
The local authority will work with your child’s school, college, local health and social care partners, to make sure that their needs can continue to be met safely. This is particularly important for children with complex medical and nursing needs, and children in care who have SEND.
Schools and local authorities are being asked to keep support in place for children in alternative provision (AP) settings wherever possible. Alternative provision settings are places that provide education for children who can’t go to a mainstream school.
On 1 May 2020, some of the laws around SEND temporarily changed to enable families and SEND organisations and services to manage as best they can during the coronavirus pandemic. One of the laws that changed is about the support that’s written down in an EHC plan and how that is given at the moment. You can find out all the details on our webpage about the changes to the law.
If you agree to changes to your child’s support during this time, you won’t be considered to have agreed any permanent change to what your child needs in their EHC plan.

What will happen with EHC needs assessments?

The SEN 0-25 team in Devon has published guidance about EHC needs assessments and issuing draft and final EHC plans. You can find that on the Devon Council website.

The main things to know are:

  • The EHC needs assessment process will carry on, but it will be affected because fewer staff will be at work due to self isolation, looking after children at home and illness.
  • The EHC Hub will stay open for parents and schools.
  • You or a school can still ask for an assessment using the Hub. If professionals are unwell or self isolating it may take longer for them to respond. If your child is not in school then it will be difficult for a professional to assess them. So, think about whether this is the best time to make a request – you might be better to wait.
  • If your child is part way through an assessment then it’s likely that this will be affected too. Professionals may have other commitments, especially those working in health and social care, or may need to stay at home. The SEN 0-25 team will do their best to keep you updated and you can still check progress on the EHC Hub.
  • Issuing an EHC Plan – Most schools are partly closed and will have fewer staff working so it may be difficult to consult with them about whether they can meet your child’s needs.
  • You can still contact the SEN 0-25 team via email, and by phone between 10 and 12 in the morning and between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, Monday to Friday. Email:specialeducation0-25-mailbox@devon.gov.uk
    Phone: 01392 380434

On 1 May 2020, some of the laws around SEND temporarily changed to enable families and SEND organisations and services to manage as best they can during the coronavirus pandemic. One of the laws that changed is about the timescales for EHC needs assessments. You can find out all the details on our webpage about the changes to the law.

 

 

My son is due to have an EHC plan review in a few weeks. What will happen about that?

EHC plan reviews that are due in the coming weeks and months may be affected. Schools and colleges are either partly or completely physically closed, professionals may not be at work for various reasons and everyone won’t be able to meet physically to review the EHC plan.
Where it’s possible, some reviews may be done virtually using something like Skype or Teams, which are video conferencing tools. These can be done confidentially and with a group of people involved and able to have their say.
Some reviews may be postponed if everyone is happy with that. This may happen if the plan isn’t likely to need to change much and the support your child is getting is working well. Your child’s school or college should get in touch to talk about the review and offer a meeting or talk about postponing.
If you and the staff at school or college think that it’s important that the review take place now, then it’s worth remembering that it’s likely some professionals won’t be able to take part. This may include educational psychologists and health and care staff. Any assessments needed are unlikely to happen either. The SEN 0-25 team will do their best to arrange what they can, so please work with them.
If the EHC plan is reviewed, the recommendations and reports will be sent to the SEN 0-25 team as usual .
On 1 May 2020, some of the laws around SEND temporarily changed to enable families and SEND organisations and services to manage as best they can during the coronavirus pandemic. One of the laws that changed is about the timescales for EHC plan processes, including the annual review of plans. You can find out all the details on our webpage about the changes to the law.
You can find out more about EHC plans and reviews on the Devon County Council website.

I’m waiting for my child to have an assessment and support from a specialist service. Are these still going ahead?

For now, specialist services are affected by the current situation in a similar way to other services and support organisations. Most services are still running in some form, though the professionals who work in them may not be as available as usual. So, some services are slimmed down versions and others are using phone, email or video contact instead of face to face meetings.

Educational psychologists are likely to finish off reports and recommendations where they have already assessed a child or young person. They may contact parents, carers, children and young people to do find out more information or to do assessments where they may have met a child already. But, with most children being at home and not in school or college it will mean some delays in assessments if the educational psychologist needs to see a child learning in their school environment.

Children and Family Health Devon deliver specialist health services in Devon, such as occupational therapy, physiotherapy, autism assessment and speech and language therapy. All none-critical services have stopped for now, including routine clinic appointments, most new assessments and most face to face services and home visits. Some services are carrying on, but they may be given in a different way. For example, some face to face support will be given by telephone and email instead. That might include some of the support in EHC plans and help for families who have a child with lots of additional needs or serious health problems.

Children and Family Health Devon have added some extra resources to their website, and you can still contact them by email or telephone on 03300 245 321.

What about tribunal appeals and mediation - will they still go ahead?

Mediations will still happen but they will be arranged as video meetings. You’ll be sent an email invitation with a link in it. Click on this on the time and date of the mediation and that should be all you need to do to take part. You don’t need any special software, knowledge or equipment but you will need a laptop/computer or a smartphone. The staff at Global Mediation can help if you get stuck. Other than the change to video meetings, mediations should be able to go ahead as planned.

Tribunal appeals should also be going ahead. The SEND Tribunal has said that all hearings will happen as either paper hearings or by telephone or video call. A paper hearing is one where you send in all your evidence and explain everything, including why you think a decision is wrong, in writing.  If you’re able to, you can use technology to do a video call with the court.

These are the main things you need to know:

  • The hearing should be held in the same way it would have been if it was done face to face.
  • You’ll be sent the details of how to join the tribunal two days before hand. This will include instructions about how to join, what equipment you’ll need and what to do if things don’t work as planned. You’ll also be told roughly how long the appeal should take.
  • Video conferencing needs a good internet connection. If it doesn’t work then you can still join using the telephone.
  • Make sure you have somewhere private to do the hearing where you won’t be disturbed.
  • You’ll be able to see who else is taking part and send messages during the hearing
  • Everyone will be able to take breaks during the hearing.
  • After the hearing you’ll be sent the decision in writing, usually within 10 working days. That will explain the tribunal’s decision and why they made it.
  • The courts are expecting that for most cases there should be no need to postpone.

You can find out more about how telephone and video hearings will be used on the Gov.uk website.

What kind of support might there be for children under 5?

Nurseries, childminders, pre-schools and reception classes are following the same guidance as schools and colleges.

The message coming from the Government is “We are asking schools, colleges, nurseries, childminders and other registered childcare settings to remain open for children of critical workers and vulnerable children where they can.” You can find out more about which children are classed as vulnerable and who key/critical workers are on the Gov.uk website.

If your child has a social worker then they are said to be ‘vulnerable’ and expected to be at nursery or pre-school or an early years setting, unless they have underlying health conditions that put them at high risk. Children who have an EHC plan are also classed as vulnerable, but many children with a plan are staying at home. The main message is that if your child can be safely cared for at home, then they should be.

If your child gets free school meals, you get the early years pupil premium, or the disadvantaged 2-year-old entitlement it doesn’t always mean your child will be classed as a ‘vulnerable’ child. It’s a good idea to check with your nursery or pre-school if you’re not sure or need more information.

Many nurseries, pre-schools etc should physically be open to take in children who need to be there. But some may not be open if they’re very short of staff. If that’s the case, then the school and local authority will work together to make sure there is another local nursery or early years provider where your child can go.

If you want to find a nursery or childminder that’s open now, you can search the Pinpoint Directory for Devon. Go to the search boxes at the top, hover over the middle one and select childminders or day nurseries from the list. Press the search button. When the list appears, scroll down a bit and you’ll see some boxes in the left-hand column. One says ‘coronavirus status’. Click the box next to ‘open’ and the list will be updated to show which ones are open.

What about social distancing – how would that work?

For very young children, keeping two metres apart from anyone else is going to be extremely difficult! Nursery and pre-school staff and childminders will keep their distance as much as they are able to, while at the same time making sure that children safe and well cared for.

Staff will need to be especially careful about handwashing for themselves and for the children they care for, including using songs, stories and games to help children remember and understand. Make sure that you and the staff are taking steps to stop children sharing food, drink, cups and utensils.

Equipment, toys and surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected often. Ask the nursery staff or your childminder what they’re doing to make sure they and your child are as safe as possible and if you’re worried about anything speak to the staff.

Useful resources for very young children

The Professional Association of Early Years and childcare have shared some information aimed at very young children, which may help to explain what’s happening.

Don’t Worry, Little Bear!
This story on the Early Years Story Book website, is to help explain Coronavirus to children and to assure them that everything will be okay.

Pips guide to Covid-19
A Better Start Southend publication which offers another way of talking to children about Coronavirus and the current situation the world is facing.

What kind of support is available for young people over 16 in further education?

Further Education colleges, sixth form colleges and other providers of education for young people between 16 and 18 are following the same guidance as nurseries and schools.
The message coming from the Government is “We are asking schools, colleges, nurseries, childminders and other registered childcare settings to remain open for children of critical workers and vulnerable children where they can.” You can find out more about which children are classed as vulnerable and who key workers are on the Gov.uk website.
Most colleges are now physically open for a small number of students where it’s been agreed that a young person needs to be there. This probably means that not all the sites or college buildings are open. Most colleges are providing a limited space for students who need to be in college to work safely, but this is unlikely to include workshops and other practical learning areas such as life skills or mechanics. Some colleges are working with others to support students. All colleges should be following the guidelines about social distancing and hygiene such as hand washing.
Colleges may not be physically open for most young people, but they are still open. Many staff including the SENCO, lecturers and learning support staff are working, though some colleges may be short staffed because of illness and for other reasons. If you or your young person need help or extra support, talk to the staff at the college first.
Young people are more likely to be able to work independently at home (though some may need motivating!). Most colleges are finding that older students don’t need to be in college and can work safely at home, unless they have other needs. If your young person has been at home but your situation changes and things are becoming more difficult, for whatever reason, get in touch with staff at the college to talk about it. You can also contact us if you or your young person need advice or support.
There are lots of ways that colleges are supporting SEND learners including:
  • virtual online tools such as Google Classroom and Moodle
  • where young people don’t have access to a laptop, computer or Wifi colleges are making for ‘hard copies’ of materials and tasks which can then be returned to the college when they’re finished with
  • lending laptops and tablets to students
  • regular contact with young people by phone, email, text or using video conferencing software (either 1:1 or in small groups)
  • web-links given to support life skills-based activities such as money management
  • regular contact with learning support staff for students that had already been using it
  • contacting parents as well as students to keep them informed and to provide support
  • marking work and providing feedback

If your young person gets a guaranteed bursary and free college meals they will still be entitled to this support, whether they are going into college or not. There will be an extra £10 per week added to this amount for them to buy food.

Young people with EHCPs

Colleges are regularly assessing young people and some of those with an EHC plan will need to be in college, but most will be able to work at home with extra support. Colleges have set up systems to give extra support including regular telephone calls or video meetings to check-in and offer help. Your young person may be offered contact with a teaching assistant, support teacher or their tutor. Most colleges have also set up a way for parents and students to contact the college if they need more support. If this has not been offered to you, contact your college and ask.

You can find out more about the changes to further education in the Department for Education guidance on the Gov.uk website.

Careers South West have put together useful resources for young people and parents about mental health, thinking about the future and managing during the current situation.

What is happening with exams?

This year’s summer exams, including A levels, GCSEs and other qualifications, and SATS tests in primary schools, have been cancelled. What does that mean for students?
Many young people due to sit GCSEs, A levels and other exams are naturally worried about how this might affect their future and the next stage of their lives or education. The Government and exam boards have stressed that they are keen to make sure students get grades that are fair, and which reflect the work they have put in and their ability.

All GCSE, AS and A level students in England have received a letter from Ofqual, the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation about how exam grades will be worked out. They have also published more detailed guidance for schools, young people and parents.

Schools and colleges will send exam boards two pieces of information for each subject, based on what they know about a young person’s work and achievements:
  1. The grade they believe your young person would most likely have got if teaching, learning and exams had happened as planned. Your school or college will consider a range of things like their classwork and homework, their results in assignments and any mock exams, any non-exam assessment or coursework and their general progress during their course.
  2. For each subject, the order of students at their school or college, by performance, for each grade. This information will be used to make sure grading is fair. It allows fine tuning of the standard grading. It also helps to make sure that students are not advantaged or disadvantaged because their schools or colleges are more generous or harsh than others. That means the final grade your young person gets could be different from the one your school or college sends to the exam board.

Schools and colleges aren’t being asked to set any extra mock exams or homework in order to work out grades – young people shouldn’t be asked to finish any non-exam assessment work either. Ofqual has said that “no student should be disadvantaged if they are unable to complete any work set after schools were closed”.

Exam results will come out on the same day they would have if things had been working normally:

  • A level results 13 August
  • GCSE results 20 August

The grades awarded this year will have equal status to the grades awarded in other years and should be treated in this way by universities, colleges and employers. On the results slips and certificates, grades will be written in the same way as in previous years.

Young people will also be given the opportunity to take some exams as early as possible in the autumn term.

What happens if my young person would have had extra exam support? 

For young people with SEND who would have had exam support, such as extra time to take the exam or a scribe, schools and colleges are being asked to judge the grade that they would most likely have got if that support had been in place.

If your young person hasn’t been studying at a school or college

If your young person has been home-schooled, has been doing distance-learning or studying independently then the centre they’re entering with should include them. This will happen where the head is confident that staff have seen enough evidence of your young person’s achievement to make a good judgement.

For those young people who don’t have a relationship with the school or college, or where there isn’t enough evidence, Ofqual are exploring what alternatives will be possible. For some young people there may be no alternative but to take the exams in the autumn in order to get a grade. Ofqual is also talking to universities and colleges about how they will be making decisions about admissions over the summer and how this will work for students in this situation.

What is happening about technical and vocational qualifications?

Many young people are taking other qualifications, alongside or instead of GCSEs, AS and A levels, to move onto further or higher education. These kinds of qualifications, as well as Functional Skills qualifications will be awarded a calculated result.

Calculated results will be awarded based on a range of evidence, depending on the structure of the qualification. They may be partly based on the teacher’s, trainer’s or tutor’s judgement. This means they would think about of the result each young person would most likely have achieved if they had been able to complete their assessments. Depending on the structure of the qualification, centres may be asked to give an assessment grade for the whole qualification, or for uncompleted modules or units.

If your young person is talking a qualification that will lead them into employment rather than more study, the process is a bit more complicated. For some courses it might be possible to make a calculated result. But for others, assessments may have to take place in other ways or in a few cases there may be no choice but to wait until the assessment can be done in the normal way. This may be the case for qualifications where passing the assessment is part of the qualification to practice that skill.

You can find out more details about technical and vocational qualifications on the Gov.uk website.

What will happen with direct payments from social care?

If you get direct payments from social care, you’ll carry on getting them every four weeks. Social care services have also said they won’t take back any unspent money during the current lockdown.

During the current situation Devon County Council has changed their policy to try and help families, so there have been some changes to how you can use the payments. You can find out more information about the changes on their webpage, but these are the main things to know:

  • You can pay any adult member of your family to care for your child during this time, apart from anyone who has parental responsibility. If you want to do this, you must do it by following the government’s guidance on self-isolation for vulnerable people. That means you may not be able to pay people such as grandparents to take care of your child.
  • If you want to employ anyone else other than a family member and pay them using direct payments, you’ll need to follow the usual employment processes. That means things like having a contract and using a payroll. If you need support to do this please contact Direct Payment Coordinators on the Support and Advice duty contact number or by email at directpaymentsreferraldisabledchildren-mailbox@devon.gov.uk.
  • If you feel that you need more money for more support at the moment, get in touch with your contact in social services or the direct payments coordinator to talk about it.
  • If you employ a carer to look after your child, they may still be able to come to your home if you both feel it’s safe to do that. If you want to do this, you must do it by following the government’s guidance on self-isolation for vulnerable people.
  • You can’t use direct payments to buy food, but this is such an unusual time that if you think you need to use direct payments for basic things, talk to your contact in social care. Your child’s school is giving vouchers or meals to those children who usually get free school meals. If your child usually gets free school meals, talk to the school about whether you can get this kind of support.
  • Having your children at home and not being able to have some of your usual support is likely to have a big impact on many families. To help support families, Children’s Social Care have agreed that for the moment, direct payments can be used to buy equipment or technology to support a child’s education, entertainment and wellbeing. This could include things like art and craft supplies, sensory toys, exercise equipment, educational resources and tablets up to the value of £150. There is a short list of possibilities on the social care coronavirus web pages. If you want to use direct payments to buy something that is not on that list, it’s a good idea to get permission before you go ahead.

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Page published 14 May 2020 Updated regularly