Q and As about school, education and SEND in lockdown 2021

Student learning at homeThese are some of the questions we’re getting from parents and carers about education in the latest lockdown.

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.

These are the main places where you can find up to date information.

  • Department for Education guidance for parents and carers about the current situation 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 web page 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, contact us or send us a message on Facebook.

We also have information for young people, and learning resources and support for families.

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

We don’t know when schools are going to be fully opened again to all children and young people, but it won’t be until after the February half term at the earliest. The essential message remains the same as the first lockdown – if children can stay safely at home, they should, to limit the chance of the virus spreading.

Schools, alternative provision (AP), special schools, colleges and wraparound childcare and other out-of-school activities can allow only vulnerable children and young people and the children of critical workers to go in. Those children said to be ‘vulnerable’ and those workers said to be ‘critical’ has changed since the first lockdown. So, it’s worth checking the lists of each of these to see if they apply to you or your child.

This is what that means:

The children of critical 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 critical worker roles is on their website.  If you or your partner (or both of you) is a critical worker, and your children can’t be safely cared for at home, then they can go to school. If you’re a critical worker and your child can be at home, they should stay at home and do remote learning.

Some schools have limited places for critical worker children because they only have a certain number of staff in the school building. Because of social distancing they can also only accept limited numbers of children. Some parents are telling us their child is only able to go into school for part of the week or not able to go in at all.

Vulnerable children and young people, which includes those:

  • who have been assessed as being in need – who have a child in need plan, a child protection plan or who are a looked-after child (they will have a social worker)
  • those with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan
  • those who have been identified as ‘vulnerable’ by schools, colleges or local authorities and who could benefit from continued full-time attendance. This might include children and young people:
    • on the edge of receiving support from children’s social care services or in the process of being referred to children’s services
    • who are adopted or have a special guardianship order
    • who are at risk of becoming NEET (‘not in employment, education or training’)
    • living in temporary accommodation
    • who are young carers
    • who may have difficulty engaging with remote education at home (for example due to a lack of devices or quiet space to study)
    • who are care leavers

Children who don’t fall into these two groups will be expected to stay at home.

Important to know

  • Schools are expected to ‘strongly encourage’ vulnerable children and young people to attend. Parents and carers of vulnerable children are strongly encouraged to take up the place. If your child is ‘vulnerable’ but staying at home, then the school should talk to you about the reasons why they are not in school.
  • Schools have to balance the number of staff they have available with the number of children of critical workers and those who are vulnerable. Some parents have told us that their child isn’t able to be in school, even though they’re vulnerable, because there isn’t space. If this happens, the first thing to do is to talk to the SENCO about the reasons why your child needs to be there and the risks to them if they aren’t. You can work with school to do a risk assessment to help work out what will be the best option for your child.
  • 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.
  • If your child is in one of these groups they don’t have to go to school (unless they have a social worker). If you feel that they are better off at home, then you can choose to keep them at home. You can ask the school for a leave of absence, but your child will still be expected to do the learning at home.
  • If your child is clinically extremely vulnerable, they don’t need to be in school even if they fall into one of these groups. However, you can choose to send them if you wish. If you’re not sure whether your child is clinically extremely vulnerable, talk to their doctor to find out.
  • Schools and colleges will carry on doing all the things they previously did to prevent the spread of coronavirus. This includes using class or year group ‘bubbles’, hand washing, extra cleaning, asking young people to wear masks where appropriate and possible, and reducing contact between people.


What about children with EHC plans?

If your child has an EHC plan they can be at school or they can be at home. If 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. Ask the school for a leave of absence.

Make sure you stay in regular touch with school to let them know how your child is getting on and to ask for any help or support you or they need. Many schools and colleges are contacting students regularly to check in with them. But if you’re not hearing anything from school ask them to contact you regularly. Some schools do this every week.

If your child has an EHC plan and they’re at home but your situation changes, or you’re worried about someone’s safety, contact your child’s school or college. All children with EHC plans were regularly risk assessed by schools and the local authority during the last lockdown – you can ask for that to be reviewed and work with the school staff to update it. You should be offered support based on your child’s needs now.

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 is part way through an EHC needs assessment for your child, but haven’t yet issued an EHC plan, 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 because they’re not managing at home or have a lot of needs, ask. They may be ‘vulnerable’ if they ‘have difficulty engaging with remote education at home’ for whatever reason. A conversation with the SENCO is the best place to start.

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

school road signIn theory yes, but in reality, that may not be the case.

All schools and colleges should physically be open to take in children and young people who need to be there. But some may not be fully open if they’re very short of staff or if there are students and staff with coronavirus. If that’s the case, then the school or college and the local authority will work together to make sure there is another local 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.

What kind of support are children and young people with SEND getting in school?

In a nutshell, it varies from school to school and from academy trust to academy trust.

Many schools and colleges are well prepared to deliver a blend of remote and live learning. They have plans in place to make sure children and young people with SEND are given work that’s appropriate and differentiated for them. That means it different from or extra to what other children in their year group are getting. Many schools are also supporting children individually in school and at home to get the most out of their learning.

Department for Education guidance says that schools should ‘ensure that appropriate support is made available for pupils with SEND’. That may mean things like arranging for teaching assistants and specialist staff from the school, and outside it, to work with children in different classes or year groups. That means your child should continue to be supported, but it may mean they have that support from a different teaching assistant or staff member.

Specialists, therapists, clinicians and other support staff for pupils with SEND can carry on giving their usual support. Some schools may decide not to allow outside staff into the building to do assessments or interventions at the moment.

Children and young people who are in school rather than at home, will be following and using the same lessons as those at home. But they’re likely to have support which might include things like:

  • regular screen and movement breaks
  • sensory breaks and using sensory equipment
  • adult support to start learning tasks, understand what they need to do and stay focused on the task
  • one to one or small group interventions
  • thrive, attachment based mentoring or emotional logic sessions

What kind of support are children and young people with SEND getting at home?

Child asking for help with learningSome children and young people with SEND are going to find home learning difficult and may not be able to use resources, or do the work, without adult support. Being there to give that support, or feeling confident and able to do so, is going to be hard for many parents. That’s particularly true if they’re also trying to work from home.

Schools and colleges must still make reasonable adjustments to help children and young people with SEND learn at home. They also still need to use what’s called ‘their best endeavours’ to make sure that the support your child needs remains in place, even though they’re at home.

For all learners with SEND, whether they have an EHC plan or not, schools and colleges are expected to be flexible and creative about how they give support.

Your child’s teacher(s) and the SENCO are best placed to know how their needs can best be  met, so that they make progress even though they’re not able to be in school. If your child has an EHC plan, the support that’s set out in it still needs to be given, wherever possible. For some things that’s going to be difficult or even impossible if your child is at home, but what can be done, should be done.

Many schools are trying to keep things as ‘normal’ as possible for children. They’re using technology to give live lessons and a structured school day, very much like they would have in school. Here are some of the things schools and colleges are doing to support children and young people with SEN at home:

  • Regular video calls with a teaching assistant or someone from learning support, depending on a child’s need.
  • Email contact and messaging between older children and young people and their teachers and support staff.
  • Opportunities for children and young people to talk to their classmates online during breaks.
  • Small group work with other students and a teacher using video conferencing.
  • Weekly telephone calls with a teacher to talk about any problems or to see how things are going.
  • Exchanging letters and postcards between children and teaching assistants and support staff.
  • Regular text, email phone or video conferencing calls between staff and young people.
  • Arranging IT equipment for students who don’t have it at home, or sending paper copies of work out by post.
  • Using online learning software and apps, as well as providing links to websites that offer extra resources or life skills activities.
  • Online story time with teachers.

What should I expect from remote (home) learning?

open laptopThe Department for Education has said that schools should give the same amount of core teaching time remotely that pupils would get if they were in school. This would usually be given as ‘blended learning’ which means a mix of recorded or live direct teaching time, and time for pupils to do tasks and assignments independently.

As a minimum, children should get the following:

  • Key Stage 1: 3 hours a day on average, with less for younger children
  • Key Stage 2: 4 hours a day
  • Key Stages 3 and 4: 5 hours a day

The same standards should apply to remote education as they do to learning in school:

  • new ideas and content should be clearly explained
  • there should be opportunities for your child to ask questions, discuss things and reflect on their work
  • your child should get feedback about their work and how to develop it and make progress
  • learning should be ‘scaffolded’ which means it’s learned bit by bit, building on what has already been learned – it’s well supported until the support is no longer needed

Teachers should be checking every day to see whether your child is doing the work, and if they’re not, they should get in touch to find out why. If your child is struggling with any part of the work, talk to the school staff sooner rather than later. You can talk about any extra support or different or work they might need.

Remember to give your child regular breaks from the screen and encourage them to move around, just as they would if they were in school.


What is happening with special schools and alternative provision?

The Department for Education is asking special schools and special post-16 settings to encourage children and young people to be in school full-time. That’s if they want to be in and you’re happy for them to be there.

If your child goes to an alternative provision school or setting, they should also stay open for vulnerable children and young people and children of critical workers. They should carry on with face to face learning where it is appropriate and offer blended learning – a mix of home and face to face leaning. They should also be giving high quality remote learning for those children and young people who aren’t in school. If your child gets learning support at home, because of a medical condition for example, you may find that’s reduced for the time being.

Sometimes special and alternative provision schools and settings may not be able provide their usual interventions and support because of staffing issues. If this happens, they should get back to full time support as soon as they can.

Hospital schools should carry on giving full time education where it is safe to do so, and in line with hospital infection prevention and control measures.

Is school transport still running?

Yes. 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.

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

Early Years settings are staying open during lockdown for all children, so you shouldn’t see any change to when they can be there. This includes childminders, nurseries, pre-schools, maintained nursery schools and school nurseries.

If your child is in reception, they can only be in school if you’re a critical worker or they are ‘vulnerable.’

If your child has a social worker then they are expected to be at nursery or pre-school, as long as they don’t have underlying health conditions that put them at severe risk. Children who have an EHC plan can be in nursery or pre-school too, but some young 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.

Nurseries, pre-schools etc should physically be open to take in children 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.

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 hand washing 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 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. During the previous lockdowns the SEND Tribunal moved all hearings to either paper hearings or telephone or video hearings. 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.  Many hearings are also taking place as video calls 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 beforehand. 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.


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Page published 12 January 2021 Page reviewed and updated regularly during lockdown