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Jan 2021 – Updated Letter from MP Vicky Ford

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families, Vicky Ford MP, has written to all children and young people and their families with SEND. You can read the letter in full below, or Click here to download the letter as a PDF.

 

Vicky Ford MP
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families
Sanctuary Buildings 20 Great Smith Street Westminster London SW1P 3BT
tel: 0370 000 2288 www.education.gov.uk/help/contactus
14 th January 2021

To all children and young people with special educational needs and
disabilities (SEND), their parents/carers and families, and others who
support them.

As you will be aware, on Monday 4th January, the Prime Minister announced a
national lockdown to control the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), which is
expected to last until at least mid-February. Unfortunately, this means we have to
return to restrictions on attendance at schools and colleges. I know that these
restrictions are a source of anxiety for many children and young people with
special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and their families.

As the Minister for Children and Families, I am committed to ensuring that
appropriate education and support is available for all children and young people
during the national lockdown, whether they are attending their education setting or
at home. I am grateful to the families who provide care to their children and the
professionals who work tirelessly to support them.

I am pleased to assure you that children and young people with an EHC plan
should be allowed to continue attending their education setting if their parent
wants them to (or, for post-16 provision, if the young person wants to attend), as
they are classed as vulnerable for the purpose of determining which children and
young people should be allowed to attend school or college during this period. The
definition of vulnerable also includes others at the education setting and local
authority’s discretion, including pupils and students who need to attend to receive
support or manage risks to their mental health. We know that many children and
young people with SEND have faced challenges during the pandemic and I am
committed to ensuring that we support their attendance wherever possible.

Where, for any reason, it is not possible for a child or young person with SEND –
including both those with an EHC plan and those who are supported through SEN
Support – to attend their education setting during this period, they should receive
remote education and support. The legal duty on schools and colleges to use their
best endeavours to meet the special educational needs of their pupils and
students, including those supported through SEN Support, remains unchanged,
whether they are attending school or college or at home for any period.

Attendance at education settings

In the face of the rapidly rising numbers of cases of COVID-19 across the country
and intense pressure on the NHS, it is essential that we reduce opportunities for
mixing and transmission. For this reason, only vulnerable children and young
people (including those with EHC plans) and children of critical workers should
attend their school or college. Guidance on who should be allowed to access a
school place can be found here:
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-maintainingeducational-provision/guidance-for-schools-colleges-and-local-authorities-onmaintaining-educational-provision.
This is not a decision that we have taken lightly. I am aware of the challenge that
this will present to children and young people, their parents and teachers. We will
review this position regularly to ensure that all children and young people can
return to face-to-face education as soon as possible.

I want to reassure you that the decision that attendance should be limited does not
suggest that schools and colleges have become significantly less safe for children
and young people. The risk of children and young people becoming seriously ill
from COVID-19, including the new variant, continues to be very low, with the
overwhelming majority experiencing no symptoms or very mild illness only. For
children and young people who continue to attend their education setting, and their
teachers, the system of protective measures means that any risks are well
managed and controlled. Details on the system of protective measures that
schools should put in place are included in guidance here:
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/actions-for-schools-during-thecoronavirus-outbreak.

All pupils and students not receiving face-to-face education for whatever reason
should be provided with suitable remote education. Education settings should work
collaboratively with families, putting in place reasonable adjustments as
necessary, so that pupils with SEND can successfully access remote education
alongside their peers. We have also published a list of high quality online
educational resources to support home learning. This includes resources that are
suitable for pupils and students with special educational needs and disabilities
(SEND) of all ages, from early years to those in further and higher education
settings. The list of resources can be found here:
https://www.gov.uk/guidance/get-help-with-remote-education#special-educationalneeds-and-disabilities-send.

In addition, where a child or young person has an EHC plan, it remains the duty of
the local authority and health commissioning body to secure or arrange the
provision specified in the plan under section 42 of the Children and Families Act
2014. However, I know that there may be times where it becomes more difficult to
do so than usual. In these circumstances, education settings, local authorities and
health partners (where applicable) should discuss with families to co-produce
alternative arrangements for delivering provision. These decisions should be
considered on a case-by-case basis which takes account of the needs of and
circumstances specific to the child or young person, avoiding a one size fits all
approach. At this stage, we do not intend to use the powers under the Coronavirus
Act 2020 to modify the section 42 duty, but we will keep this position under review
based on the evidence.

Special schools and special post-16 institutions should continue to welcome and
encourage pupils and students to attend full-time (or as per their usual timetable)
where the parent or carer wishes for their child to be able to attend (or for post-16
settings, where the young person wishes to attend). However, I know that there
may be circumstances where it is not possible for specialist settings to provide
their usual interventions and provision at adequate staffing ratios, or with staff with
vital specialist training. In these cases, settings should seek to resume as close as
possible to full-time provision as soon as possible, discuss these decisions with
families in advance to agree an approach that would be in the child or young
person’s best interests, and then keep this under review. Guidance for special
schools and specialist settings is available here:
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-for-full-opening-specialschools-and-other-specialist-settings.

Some children and young people and their families may be understandably
apprehensive about attending school or college, even where they may benefit from
the routine and support available through continued attendance. In the first
instance, I strongly encourage parents or young people to discuss any concerns
with the education setting, to see whether any reassurance could be provided or
adjustments made to support attendance. Education settings, working with other
local partners where appropriate, should consider carefully the concerns of the
parent or young person and work collaboratively with families so that, where
appropriate, the child or young person can be supported to attend.

The decision for a child or young person with an EHC plan to stay away from their
education setting is ultimately a matter of choice rightly for parents and young
people. If a parent wishes for their child to be absent or a young person chooses
not to attend, they should inform the education setting of this so it can be properly
recorded. Given the exceptional circumstances, the Departmental guidance is
clear that it expects leaves of absences to be granted. Absence will not be
penalised.

Children who are clinically extremely vulnerable

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has published updated
guidance on shielding and protecting people who are clinically extremely
vulnerable from COVID-19, which is available here:
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-on-shielding-andprotecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19.

As our knowledge of COVID-19 has grown, we now know that very few children
and young people are at highest risk of severe illness. Doctors have therefore
been reviewing all children and young people who were initially identified as
clinically extremely vulnerable to confirm whether they are still thought to be at the
highest risk of becoming seriously ill and discussing this with families. Those aged
18 or over who have been identified as clinically extremely vulnerable should have
received a letter informing them of the updated guidance.
Where parents have discussed this with their child’s doctors and doctors have
confirmed that a child or young person is still considered clinically extremely
vulnerable (or, for those aged 18 and over, they have received a shielding letter),
they are advised not to attend their education setting during the national lockdown.
Education settings should work with local authorities and health partners to ensure
that remote education and support is put in place for any pupils or students who
are not attending their education setting.

Mass testing in specialist schools and special post-16 institutions

The Government is delivering a programme of rapid asymptomatic testing in the
first half of the Spring term for children and young people in year 7 and above (or
equivalent) and school staff, which will be delivered in mainstream and special
schools with secondary-aged pupils, special post-16 institutions, Pupil Referral
Units and other Alternative Provision schools. This will help to identify
asymptomatic positive cases and break the chains of transmission of coronavirus.
This is particularly important in special schools and specialist colleges, where the
education and care provided often involves close proximity between children or
young people and staff and social distancing can be harder to observe.
Testing is voluntary, so no child or young person will be tested unless informed
consent has been given by the appropriate person (usually the parent or young
person). As such, no children or young people will be prevented from receiving
face-to-face education if for any reason they are not tested.
The test involves a swab of the throat and/or nose. Although the majority of
secondary-aged children and young people will be able to self-swab, we recognise
that the self-swabbing may cause significant concerns for some children and
young people with SEND. Where self-swabbing is not possible, special schools
and special post-16 institutions are likely to have staff who have undertaken a
variety of training to support health needs and who could administer swabs where
appropriate. In exceptional circumstances, settings may want to work with parents
to agree to a parent coming in to support their child to self-swab or to swab their
child.
Detailed guidance on mass asymptomatic testing in specialist settings is available
here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-for-full-openingspecial-schools-and-other-specialist-settings/mass-asymptomatic-testing-inspecialist-settings. Resources and information for staff have been made available
to schools and colleges as they set up their programme. More information for
young people and their families, including visuals and easy-read format written
materials, will be made available shortly.

Health services and respite for children and young people with SEND

During the national lockdown, there continues to be an exception to the restrictions
on leaving your home and on gatherings set out in Regulations for provision in an
EHC plan. This means that children and young people can continue to receive
appropriate support from health and social care services where it is reasonably
necessary for the purposes of provision specified in an EHC plan. Specialists,
therapists, clinicians and other support staff can provide interventions as usual,
including where this requires them to move between settings.

In addition, there is also an exception to the restrictions on leaving your home and
on gatherings set out in the Regulations where this is reasonably necessary for the
purpose of respite care for a vulnerable or disabled person. This means that
parents and carers may continue to access respite care to support them in caring
for their disabled children during the national lockdown, including both services
which care for children away from home and care which is delivered in the family
home. Guidance for parents on early years providers, schools and colleges, which
sets out that respite provision for families of disabled children can continue to
operate, is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/whatparents-and-carers-need-to-know-about-early-years-providers-schools-andcolleges-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak.

I know that there are many positive examples of local authorities having worked
with families to agree flexible solutions for delivering support – for example,
increasing the use of direct payments – and I would encourage this collaborative
working to continue. Parents of disabled children under 5 who require continuous
care can also continue to form a support bubble with one other household, and
parents of all children under 14 can continue to form a childcare bubble. Guidance
on making a support bubble with another household can be found here:
https://www.gov.uk/guidance/making-a-support-bubble-with-another-household.

Building on the support that we have secured to date to ensure that health
services for children and young people with SEND (for example, therapies and
community children’s nursing) continue to be prioritised, on 10 December, the
Chief Allied Health Professions Officer (England) circulated a letter highlighting the
importance of the continuation of services delivered by Allied Health Professionals
(which includes therapies) for children and young people with SEND. The letter
emphasised that services should continue to be prioritised and that the
redeployment of Allied Health Professionals should be avoided wherever possible.
This enables the provision of therapy services for children and young people with
SEND to continue or to be restored where there has been disruption.

I know that this national lockdown will be challenging for children and young
people with SEND and their families. I am incredibly grateful for the continued
dedication and diligence of those who work to support them, whilst recognising
that there may be circumstances in which it is more difficult than usual to do so.
Co-production and effective communication between all partners continue to be
key to ensuring that children, young people and their families can access high
quality education and specialist professional care, working together to coproduce
alternative methods of delivering this where appropriate.

Yours sincerely,
Vicky Ford MP
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families

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