Ask, Listen, Act – understanding the impact of COVID-19 on children with SEND
The Ask, Listen, Act Study; exploring the experiences and lessons learnt in order to scope, understand, and co-develop the policy priorities for reducing inequalities and mitigating the long-term impacts of COVID-19 for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)
The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research’s (NIHR) Policy Research Programme (Recovery, Renewal, Reset: Research to inform policy responses to COVID-19 funding stream) in May 2021. It examined the perceptions, experiences and lessons learnt in order to scope, understand, and co-develop the policy priorities for reducing inequalities and mitigating the long-term impacts of COVID-19 for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).
The background to the study was:-
- In England, and in the year before the pandemic, children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) accounted for 14.9% of the total school population (DfE, 2019).
- Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were already stark inequalities and weaknesses in the provision of services for children with SEND which the pandemic exacerbated.
- Children with SEND are the forgotten children of the pandemic. Almost immediately, changes were made in response to COVID-19 which downgraded their legal rights to their education and health care support. The effect of this was to leave many children with SEND without vital support.
- The Coronavirus Act 2020 which received Royal Assent on 25th March 2020, having been fast-tracked through parliament in just four sitting days, covered a wide array of legal and policy areas which affect children and young people but one of the important changes it made was the modification of section 42 of the Children and Families Act 2014; From 1st May to 31st July 2020, the absolute legal duty conferred upon local authorities to deliver the special educational and healthcare provision set out in a child’s EHCP under section 42 of the CFA was diluted to a ‘reasonable endeavours’ duty to secure the provision. The effect of this was to leave many children with SEND without vital support.
- Parents of children with SEND were in many cases left trying to home-school, provide caring as well as home schooling.
- This important study offers a new perspective, in that it is both multi-disciplinary, and multi-institutional collaboration with a national, child-centred solution-based focus.
- The work has co-produced policy priorities for children with SEND by engaging with all the vital stakeholders (local authority professionals, education professions and health and social care professionals) as well as parents of children with SEND, and children with SEND. Children with SEND have been at the heart of the project.
This was a multiple phase study to scope and understand the experiences and lessons learned throughout the pandemic and work collaboratively to develop the priorities.
- A rapid scoping review of the evidence to identify the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the education, health and social care of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).
- Electronic surveys examinedi the experiences of SEND provision over the pandemic and lockdowns, lessons learnt and priorities moving forward completed by 55 children, 893 parents/carers, 163 health and social care professionals, 100 education professionals, and 44 Local Authority professionals.
- Semi-structured interviews to further examine experiences of COVID-19 and priorities moving forward are ongoing. So far we have interviewed three children, 10 parents/carers, 11 health and social care professionals, four education professionals, and one Local Authority professional.
- Priority setting workshops with 35 professionals who work with children with SEND to identify priorities for ‘going forward’ out of the COVID-19 pandemic to promote recovery.
- Priority setting workshops planned for children with SEND and their parents/carers.
When sharing their views of the pandemic and lockdowns, children with SEND shared mixed views:
35% (n=17) of children chose this emoji
23% (n=11) of children chose this emoji
13% (n=6) of children chose this emoji.
Perceptions of Parent/carers of children with SEND
- Children were not able to access face to face education
- Remote learning not effective at meetings the educational needs of children
- Children’s education and learning was negatively impacted
- Access to vital therapies was cancelled or delayed
- Children’s social skills, mental health, ability to interact and make and sustain friendships deteriorated significantly
- Children and young people struggled with transition back to school following lockdown
- Parents’ mental health sharply deteriorated
Perceptions of Education Professionals
- Education professionals’ ability to provide SEND support was negatively impacted
- Education professionals felt that pupils with SEND had been more negatively affected by the pandemic than pupils without SEND
- The number of children with SEND needing mental health/wellbeing support had increased over the last year.
- The number of children needing SEND support/ or assessments had increased over the last year
- The number of safeguarding concerns for children with SEND had increased over the last year.
- The pandemic offered an opportunity for children with SEND to do things differently to support their emotional wellbeing at school.
Perceptions of Health & Social Care Professionals
- The majority of health and social care professionals reported that the quality of their service provision was worse than before the COVID pandemic.
- The majority of health and social care professionals reported that there had been more requests for support, resources & provision for children with SEND for their service.
Perceptions of Local Authority Professionals
- The majority of Local Authority professionals (reported including all children with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) in their definition of ‘vulnerable’ during the first national lockdown, meaning they were allowed to continue attending school. Over two thirds of local authority staff who responded to the survey reported that an individual risk assessment had been used to help determine if a child was ‘vulnerable’.
- The majority (66%) of local authority staff reported an increase in requests to their Local Authority for EHCP assessments since March 2020.
- Local authority professionals reported an increase in requests for the provision of services for SEND children and their families since March 2020, including an increase in requests for; educational support respite and short breaks health care support social care support and play and recreation.