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When This Is All Over...

Education consultant and SEND specialist Lorraine Petersen shares her thoughts on the challenges thrown up for SEND children and their teachers and families in the current crisis - and also the opportunities for real positive change. 

In the last few weeks life has changed considerably for everybody but for those working in a schools, colleges and early years settings it has changed beyond recognition.

Across the country some of you are at home every day, some of you are on a rota, going into school on set days, some of you are in school full time but with fewer children and young people and if you have become a hub working with children and young people you have not met before. Some schools are completely closed others will be open after the Easter break.

There are also those colleagues who are having to make significant decisions about pupils GCSE and A level results – not an easy task I am sure.

This week there has been a plethora of discourse around the Baseline Assessment and the need for this to be cancelled this year.

There has also been discourse about Ofsted not carrying out any inspections for at least a term.

But I think we are missing something significant if we do permit ourselves to think much more broadly than this. This is an opportunity to change our education system for the better. We have time now to think about what we need to provide for our 21st Century children and young people, especially, from my perspective, those with SEND.

This crisis has highlighted a number of things for me that I suggest we need to consider carefully as we go forward:

  • All children with an EHCP were deemed vulnerable by the DfE – now we can argue that this may not be the case but it at least indicates that the government recognise the complexity of need of many of our children and young people who have an EHCP. If it is acknowledged that these are some of our most vulnerable students then we need to ensure that they receive the best education possible and this requires substantial funding. We therefore need to be negotiating the true cost of educating our SEND pupils both those with an EHCP and those who are on SEN Support.
  • The majority of pupils are now being “home schooled” and how this is being achieved is very dependent on parents and their ability to support their child/children. We are seeing the divide between those students who have the technology to be able to log into a virtual classrooms every-day, parents who can’t afford to buy the ink cartridges they need to print off the worksheets and those families who only have a mobile phone to access on-line material and in some cases don’t have on-line access at all. We are in the 21st Century where technology is key – we need to ensure that all students have access to the technology they are going to need to support their learning.
  • We know that some students are thriving at home mainly because they find school stressful and may have not accessed school for a while – we now know that we can provide for those students – let’s consider moving away from the “bums on seats” mentality where every student has to be in front of a teacher in a classroom for every lesson.
  • Some of our SEND pupils not only need educational support but health and social care input as well. During the lockdown this has become even more evident when schools and families have been unable to access these provisions (even though the C&F Act must still be followed at the moment). The whole thrust of the Act is that Education, Health and Social Care must work together. To me this means that schools need to think about their workforce and does it meet the needs of all its students – if not why not? If a number of students need speech and language therapy input then they need to consider how they can employ a therapist to provide what is required to meet the needs of those students.
  • When our students finally return to school they are going to require considerable support for their mental health and well-being. This needs to be a top priority for staff professional development to ensure that all our staff can meet the needs of all their students. Tests, exams, phonic checks, baseline assessments and multiplication checks will not be top priority – if we can manage one year without them why not two?

Finally there has been lots of discussion about what will happen if schools do not return until September. How are our students going to manage transition to new schools? How will students catch–up the missed term of education, especially those in significant year groups and those with SEND? Will schools have to have longer induction time for reception children? There are any number of questions that could be asked.

One solution would be to move the start of the school year to January. This would mean that students would return in September to the school where they were when schools closed. This would give a term to get students back into learning and support the transition process for those moving on. It would also mean that test and exams would be moved to November or December (cooler, no hay-fever). Since the introduction of academies many schools have changed their term times but still have to work around a six week holiday in the summer. 21st century children and young people no longer have to go to the country to gather crops and hops in July and August - lets be radical and bring our education system into the 21st century to support our 21st children and young people. [ITL]

Lorraine Petersen OBE has 25 years’ experience in the mainstream school environment as a teacher and Head Teacher. From 2004 – 2013 she was CEO of NASEN, a charitable organisation supporting all those who work with children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. To find out more, check out her website.

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