Daisy Russell- Policy and Practice Manager for the Information, Advice and Support Services Network joined us to share her thoughts about how the Coronavirus Act 2020 will affect services providing SEND support to children and young people and their families:
Yesterday, a Joint Ministerial letter was published reinforcing the fact that the Coronavirus Act 2020 has not changed anything yet. The Secretary of State has not given notice to allow Local Authorities to relax their duties under the Children and Families Act 2014 and when this does happen it will be for the shortest time period possible.
Everyone of course needs to use a common sense approach and understand that everyone is doing their best under very difficult circumstances and that everyone’s priority needs to be on keeping vulnerable children safe, but the responsibilities and duties on Local Authorities and others for pupils with SEND have not simply gone away.
When the Secretary of State does give notice it will mean, among other things that Local Authorities have to make ‘Reasonable Endeavours’ to carry out the provision in the plan. This is not then a must, but neither is it a reason to not provide anything. It is worth noting, that parents may like to think themselves about what this might look like (i.e. virtual SALT/OT, differentiated work sent home etc). Obviously anything that is put in place will be subject to change as people become ill and need to recover or self-isolate.
When the Secretary of State gives notice it will also effectively allow Local Authorities to postpone Annual Reviews, they may well still go ahead if everyone is happy and able for them to do so, but the Local Authority can decide to put them on hold.
The most recent guidance suggests that the Government will change the timescales on statutory assessment (rather than rely on the ‘exceptional circumstances' regulations which would allow for slippage once schools were shut for more than 4 weeks), again, important to note that this has not been changed at the time of writing.
A last bit on attendance – the guidance is very clear that pupils should only attend school if they cannot be cared for at home, i.e. they cannot be safely (because of safeguarding; personal care needs; challenging behaviour; key worker parents) kept at home. Having an Education, Health and Care Plan does not give a right to attend school and a decision on who attends should be made in line with a risk assessment carried out by the school, the Local Authority and parents. Pupils who do go to school may not go to their normal school even if this is the one named in their plan (this is only for the duration of the notice given by the Secretary of State under the emergency legislation and does not change the placement set out in the plan in the long term).