The ongoing lack of provision for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) is a ‘disaster waiting to happen’, according to leading experts.
The stark warning came following an Education Committee meeting which took place by video conferencing yesterday, during which MPs heard that the needs of SEND children had ‘simply not been met’ throughout the pandemic.
Imogen Jolley, Head of Public Law at Simpson Millar Solicitors, said that some health provision for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities had ‘effectively dropped off a cliff’ – citing access to occupational therapies, speech and language therapies and physiotherapy as a major cause for concern.
Concerns were also raised about what provision was now in place to help manage these needs until the re-opening of schools in September, and whether schools were then equipped to deal with the ‘added pressure’ of dealing with children and young people who had not had the full support outlined in their Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) for many months.
Imogen said, “We already know that the impact of a lack of support and routine since the outbreak of Coronavirus has been considerable. In our experience, a significant proportion of children are not getting the provision outlined in their EHCPs.
“I think parents were fairly silent about that during the first couple of months of lockdown because they appreciated the unprecedented nature of what’s been going on but now it is becoming absolutely acute.”
The call to action echoes the concern of parents of children with SEND with a survey conducted by Simpson Millar revealing that more than half of families of children with EHCPs saw a drop in the level of support they received since the outbreak of Coronavirus.
According to the data*, a lack of access to social groups and activities, as well as respite care, were flagged as the main issues.
Imogen added, “The data speaks for itself. We simply cannot afford to wait for the schools to re-open. Families need proper provision now, and that requires commitment, direction, and proper planning from Central Government and Local Authorities.
“When the UK went into lockdown the Government eased the requirement under section 42 Children and Families Act 2014 on Local Authorities to make the provision set out in a child’s EHCP. This now needs to be reversed.
“Keeping this easement is not necessary as nobody expects the impossible, nor would Courts agree to it.
“Until it is re-instated the Government is sending out the wrong message to Local Authorities and schools. It provides something for them to hide behind. It is to the detriment of children in both the short and long term.
“Furthermore, we need to consider what the knock-on effect of the lack of provision in recent months is, and how that will impact the behaviour of children when they re-enter the more formal school setting.
“One area where we have particular concern is around speech and language and communication. Children who have difficulties communicating become frustrated, and when they become frustrated their behaviour becomes more challenging.
“It affects not only them and their families, but also their teachers, teaching assistants and the other pupils who they share a classroom with. It is a huge worry.”
Out of a total 1,000 respondents to Simpson Millar’s survey, 162 participants said that one or more of their children had an Education, Health and Care Plan. 91 (56%) said they have had problems getting help from a Local Authority since the social distancing measures were introduced.
*This data was independently collated by Trinity McQueen an independent market research company. Trinity McQueen on behalf of Simpson Millar carried out a survey of 1,000 parents across the UK between 04/06/20 and 19/06/20.