Schools in England have been using COVID-19 risk assessments as a “blanket excuse” to prevent students with special educational needs and disabilities from attending classes, which has left their families feeling utterly abandoned.
Addressing the cross-party education committee, the campaigners said that the schools were using “spurious reasons” to avoid having pupils with Send in education settings leaving many children isolated at home with little or no support.
The committee, which is investigating the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on education in England, also heard that children with additional needs had seen their support “fall off a cliff” during the pandemic. As a result, the physical, emotional, and mental health of many had deteriorated.
Philippa Stobbs, the Special Educational Consortium’s policy vice-chair, said there were examples of a good provision in some areas. Still, elsewhere, parents have had no contact with their school or local authority.
“The impact of that is devastating,” said Stobbs. “The difficulty for a family left to home educate their child with a lack of any provision from a school, or local authority is almost unimaginable, and the impact of that in terms of physical and mental wellbeing is going to be deep and, I fear, lasting.”
Pupils with education, health, and care plans (EHCPs) were among those offered school places during the lockdown, alongside children of critical workers and vulnerable students. While some families have chosen to keep children at home, the committee was told others have been unable to access places.
The committee was told that children and young people with Send had lost their additional support as a result of the government’s decision to relax the legal duty on local authorities – overstretched as a result of the Covid-19 crisis – to deliver provision outlined in EHCPs.
The committee chairman, Conservative MP Robert Halfon, said the evidence provided by campaigners and lawyers painted an “incredibly depressing” picture of how the pandemic had affected children with Send and their families.