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.

England wide guidance for schools, colleges and local authorities came out on March 19th. You can find that guidance 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 on 22nd March.

These are the main things you need to know:

  1. If it is at all possible for your children to be at home, then they should be.
  2. If your child needs specialist support, is vulnerable or you or your partner a critical worker, then school will be available for them.
  3. Don’t rely on people who are most at risk from the virus, such as grandparents and people with underlying conditions for your childcare.
  4. Do everything they can to make sure your children aren’t mixing socially in a way which can spread the virus. Children should be following the same social distancing principles as adults.
  5. Residential special schools, boarding schools and special settings will carry on caring for children wherever possible.

Devon County Council has a webpage where you can find lots more up to date information.

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.

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.

Schools are going to shut on Friday 20th March, but children with EHCPs can continue to go. Is that right?

Yes. The government has said that schools will shut on Friday afternoon, and they will stay closed until further notice, except for ‘children of key workers and vulnerable children’. This means all schools should offering access for children that are in these groups, unless they don’t have enough staff to do so.

Key workers include 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 include

  • those supported by social care
  • those with safeguarding and welfare needs, including child in need plans
  • those on child protection plans
  • children in care
  • young carers
  • disabled children
  • those with education, health and care (EHC) plans
  • some other children and young people recognised as vulnerable by the Local Authority and school

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 this 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 next week and beyond.

What about children who aren’t in the vulnerable or key worker groups?

Children who don’t t fall into these groups will be expected to stay at home. The information coming from Government says, “If children can stay safely at home, they should, to limit the chance of the virus spreading.”

The advice to schools, and all other childcare settings (including early years settings, childminders and providers of childcare for school-age children), colleges and other educational establishments, is that “they need to remain safe places for children. But the fewer children making the journey to school, and the fewer children in educational settings, the lower the risk that the virus can spread and infect vulnerable individuals in wider society.”

So, the main message is, if you can safely keep your children at home with you, do.

How will my child’s school be able to look after my child with an EHCP if most children are staying at home, or if there aren’t enough teaching staff?

This is all new territory and schools and local authorities are having to make plans quickly. Schools may have to work together to ensure 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.

The government has said “Where schools are unable to look after these children, local authorities will work with the Department for Education’s regional teams to ensure an alternative option is available in the same area.”

Some schools in Devon will be closed – you can see which ones on the DCC website.  If your child’s school is closing, they will tell you what arrangements have been made for your child. The Local Authority will also help co-ordinate this work but the first place to get information is from the school as they will know what local plans are in place. Devon County Council are also setting up an advice number for parents – we’ll post details when we have them.

Over the next few days, schools will be confirming information about keyworker roles for parents of their students and finding out if you need your child to be in school. If your child needs to be in school, you may be asked to fill in an online form.

I don’t want my child with an EHCP to go to school after Friday 20th March. Do they have to?

The main message is that if it’s safe for your child to be at home, then they should be. So, if your child has an EHC Plan but you feel they would be better off at home, then let the school know what you’re doing and keep them at home.

Every child and family are different, and you’ll need to make your decision based on your circumstances. Bear in mind that some children will find staying at school easier because they have very clear boundaries – schoolwork is done at school and home activities are done at home. To mix these up may cause high levels of anxiety and distress. Whereas for other children the uncertainty of being in school but very possibly with different staff, a different routine and even in a different building is likely to be more stressful.

If you’re worried about your child going into school because of their health and believe that you should be self-isolating, contact their school.

I’ve got a child with additional needs who is on SEN Support, do they have to stay at school?

No. The government’s announcement only included ongoing school time for children of keyworker staff and vulnerable children. Now, vulnerable children include those with Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) but not those with SEN support at school. So, if your child has SEN Support in school and has a social worker you will probably qualify, but otherwise no, your child should stop going to school after Friday 20th March.

What about the Easter holidays – I heard that children with an EHCP can still attend school then, is this right?

Yes. The government has said “Where possible, we would encourage settings to also look after key workers’ children and vulnerable children throughout the Easter holidays.” Local schools and colleges, along with the local authority will be working out how this will happen.

Devon County Council has a webpage that lists the schools that are open over Easter.

Is school transport still running?

If your child is going to be in school next week then transport arrangements should carry on as they are, following the same timetable wherever possible. If this isn’t going to happen for your child, then their school or the transport provider will get in touch with you.

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

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.
The advice from Government is that “Schools should work with local authorities to monitor the welfare of vulnerable children who are not attending school, and other pupils they might wish to keep in touch with, for safeguarding purposes.”
The local authority will work with local health and social care partners too, to make sure that each child’s 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.
Local authorities and schools 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.
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 Local Offer 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 will be difficult to consult with them about whether they can meet your child’s needs. So, when the SEN 0-25 team wants to issue a plan they may need to name your child’s current school for the time being.
  • You can still contact the SEN 0-25 team via email, and by phone between 10 and 10 in the morning and between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, Monday to Friday. Email:specialeducation0-25-mailbox@devon.gov.uk
    Phone: 01392 380434




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 will be affected. Schools and colleges are either partly or completely 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, which is a video conferencing tool.
Some reviews will 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 .
You can find out more about EHC plans and reviews on Devon’s Local Offer website.

We are due to go to tribunal for an appeal. Will it still go ahead?

At the moment, yes. The SEND Tribunal has said that as from Monday 23rd March 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 such as Skype to do a video call with the court.

The Tribunal have asked people not to call them until two days before their hearing is due if they haven’t heard anything about how it will go ahead. That’s because all services are under strain at the moment with staff self-isolating or unwell. 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 is happening with exams and SATS tests?

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.
These are the main things to know about how that will happen:
  • Young people will be given the chance to sit an exam once schools reopen or early in the next academic year, if they wish to.
  • Subject grades will be worked out based on the teacher’s judgement about what grade they think their student would have got if the exams had gone ahead. To do this, teachers will take into account a range of evidence and information including mock exams and non-exam assessments. Schools and colleges will be given guidance on how to do this to make sure decisions are fair and consistent. Exam boards will add this information to other data, including any previous results, and use this to produce a calculated grade for each student.
  • The aim is to give young people their calculated grades before the end of July.
  • If any young person feels that the right process hasn’t been followed in their case, they will be able to appeal the grade that’s been given to them.

Ofqual, the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation, has said that by Easter they will be able to outline the process followed to make sure grades are fair across schools and colleges, as well as how appeals will work. There will also be more inforamtion available then about arrangements for young people who want to sit exams in the new academic year.

Are we going to have to teach our children at home? I wouldn’t know where to start.

Most schools will create resources and work for children to do at home or arrange for online learning. This may be much harder for some children with learning difficulties or additional needs, and of course it’s likely to be difficult to manage if you have to work from home as well as look your children.

There are lots of tips and resources online from experienced home educators but try not to put too much pressure on yourself as this is going to be new for everyone. It will be helpful for you and your children to have a routine and some structure in place each day. Have a look at our useful resources page for more information. The SEND team at Babcock are also collecting resources and putting links on their website that you might find helpful.

I’m worried I won’t be able to cope if schools are shut for a long time. What should I do?

 Nobody knows how this situation will play out and how long schools will be shut. If you are worried about how you will support your child at home, then please talk to their school in the first instance.

If your child has a social worker, keep in touch with them and if you’re ever worried about yours or your child’s safety contact MASH – Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub for Devon on 0345 155 1071 or email mashsecure@devon.gov.uk and give as much information as you can.

You can call DiAS for information and support. We are providing our usual service by telephone and email and via our website and social media. The enquiry line is open between 10am and 3pm Monday to Friday and DiAS Officers are continuing to support and advise parents and carers.

You can also connect online with Devon and UK parent groups and organisations to get peer support and ideas. Keep connecting with family and friends by phone and online too.


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Page published 27th March 2020 Due to be checked and updated daily