Today, Tuesday 21 July, Children & Families Minister Vicky Ford and Care Minister Helen Whately wrote an open letter to children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, their parents, families and others who support them. The letter explains the actions that need to be taken to ensure that, where possible, all pupils return to their educational settings from September, and responds to some of the concerns and questions that have been raised.
Key messages include:
- The particular importance for those with special educational needs and disabilities to return to educational settings safely in September so that they can receive face-to-face education and support
- Reassures that the risk of contracting the virus in educational settings is low and outlines protective measures in place to reduce the risk even further, including the NHS Test and Trace system
- Ministers expect a small number of absences from children and young people who remain under the specialist care of a health professional however, the plan for their return to education settings should be determined following an assessment with this professional and supported by a conversation between parents and the school
- Children and young people with SEND should continue to receive the therapeutic and other specialist interventions they would receive ordinarily
- All children, young people and their families will continue to have access to testing if they develop COVID-19 symptoms, and their setting will be provided with a small number of easy to use home testing kits for those who might not otherwise receive one
- The Ministers are working with the Department for Transport, Public Health England and key stakeholders to finalise new guidance for local authorities on providing dedicated school transport. This guidance will be published shortly.
The letter also states that, unless the evidence changes, they will not be issuing further national notices to modify the duty on local authorities and health commissioning bodies to secure or arrange the special educational and health care provision set out in a child or young person’s EHC plan in order to ensure children and young people receive the support they need to return to school.
Importantly, Minister’s highlight that out of school settings providing childcare, short break or respite services will be able to open from 1 July and into the summer holiday. The Council for Disabled Children has worked with providers to demonstrate examples of the effective ways services are operating safely, and opening more widely, so that children, young people and their families can access vital support with confidence. The case studies can be found at: https://councilfordisabledchildren.org.uk/help-resources/resources/short-break-learning-examples.
Dame Christine Lenehan, Director of the Council for Disabled Children, issued the following statement:
“CDC believes that all children have a right to education and we support the return to school. We welcome the guidance and the focus on joint working with settings and other providers to highlight best practice in areas such as short breaks and transport, which can inform how settings adapt to ensure children’s safety and wellbeing when they return. We also welcome the decision to no longer serve notices to modify the duty on local authorities to act on EHC plans as we know how crucial these plans are to young people and their families. A return to school must support all children and we hope that these measures help children and young people with SEND and their families feel confident about the return to school in September.”
You can read the open letter here: https://councilfordisabledchildren.org.uk/help-resources/resources/joint-ministerial-letter-full-return-educational-settings-september-2020