Published on: 03 Jun 2020

Key considerations: The phased reopening of schools for learners with SEND

By Prof Adam Boddison, CEO, nasen (National Association for Special Educational Needs)

I would encourage schools to think of this, not so much as a transition point, but more as a transition window. Some learners will need longer than others to adapt to the ‘new normal’ of school life.

As the number of learners attending schools in England begins to increase, it is important to ensure we get it right for all learners, including those with SEND (Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities). We should start by remembering that some learners with SEND, primarily those with EHC (Education, Health and Care) plans, were classed as ‘vulnerable’ and so they have been attending school through the lockdown period. So, some of these children (and their teachers!) will be ready for a break at the very point that schools are getting busier. It would be easy to focus on transition for returning children and to forget this group, but thinking about their mental and physical wellbeing will be important too.

The vast majority of learners with SEND, including those at the level of SEN support, have not been at school for several weeks. Their experiences will all have been different but may include bereavement, a lack of access to formal support or a feeling of isolation having not seen any children of the same age since lockdown began. There will also be some children who will have actually preferred the home learning environment more than attending school because of the person-centred approach and flexibility that may not always be achievable at school.

Regardless of the circumstances, there is now likely to be a significant change for many, if not all, children: a period of national transition for the entire pupil population. I would encourage schools to think of this, not so much as a transition point, but more as a transition window. Some learners will need longer than others to adapt to the ‘new normal’ of school life.

Once learners are back in school, attention will likely turn to identifying gaps in learning and closing the reading gap, with a particular focus on disadvantaged pupils. In order to achieve this, schools will want to ensure that pupils are socially, mentally and emotionally ready to learn. Many school leaders are now using the language of ‘recovery’ rather than ‘catch-up’, which reflects the importance of this key phase of effective transition.

In order to provide effective nurture for children and to support their readiness to learn, it will be important to understand their attitudes and mindset as they return to school. This will allow for the identification of support that can be put in place at a whole school level as well as any small group or individual interventions. The SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) will have a key role in organising the identification of need at a strategic level, but the responsibility for the progress and attainment of individual students and ensuring that needs are identified and met remains with classroom teachers.

As schools return to full capacity, I would encourage SENCOs and school leaders to give some thought to how they might record the changing profile of needs within their pupil population. In particular, if a significant number of children are identified with SEMH (social, emotional, mental health) needs, will they be added to the SEN register and provided with support through the usual SEN support processes or will something different be put into place? Whatever the approach, nasen will continue to provide support for the school workforce to ensure we get this right for learners with SEND.

nasen is a partner of GL Assessment.