So hopefully you have all had a chance to recharge your batteries after the weirdest summer term in our history.
Hopefully, we can now start getting back to some sense of normality – or a new normality for a while.
The Government has released new guidance for schools on how to be fully reopened but ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’ as they say and there is a lot for us to consider this term.
Firstly, and most obviously, is how we should keep children safe. New guidance lists a ‘system of controls’ which must be adhered to in order to reduce risk.
It states that children should be encouraged to social distance but acknowledges that this may not be possible with EYFS or children with SEND.
It also states that children need to regularly wash their hands. Anyone who has ever worked with SEND children – or indeed children of any age – will know that this is easier said than done.
Children with certain conditions, such as ADHD or ASD, may struggle to social distance or wash hands due to sensory difficulties. The guidance has suggested that social stories will help with this.
Although these are a really useful tool and are used to good effect in many instances, in my experience, social stories need time to be embedded.
The idea is that they are done regularly and repeatedly until the child begins to understand but this can take weeks or even months until it begins to work as a strategy.
This therefore leaves the question, what happens in the interim? Hopefully your school will have implemented a recovery curriculum which will include the reasons for extra hand washing etc.. and this should hopefully help.
I have found that most of the SEND children that we have had in school during the partial school closures, quickly got into the routine of extra handwashing.
Although staff have said that they underestimated the amount of extra time this can take. We have also found that going through a visual timetable (that includes handwashing sessions) each morning as our SEND children came into school, really helped.
The guidance makes it very clear that staff do not need to wear PPE unless the child they are supporting has symptoms.
However, the guidance clearly identifies the difficulties of reducing cross contamination when supporting children that spit or that use saliva as a sensory stimulant and makes it clear that children that spit should still be in school.
The guidance suggests that staff need to wash their hands more regularly but I think some staff may still be anxious when supporting a child with a high level of need. I have found that completing individual risk assessments with staff, that include a clear plan for what to do, have really helped with this.
Parents of children with SEND will have had the additional stress of supporting children with a high level of need for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Many won’t have been able to leave the house at all. It’s important that we talk to parents, find out how they’re coping and catch up on any important events that may have occurred during lockdown, so that we can point them in the right direction for any support they might need.
The partial closures have meant that many children with SEND will have been at home without their SEND needs being met. That’s not to suggest that this is due to some shortcoming on the part of their parents – but there’s only so much that a child can be taught at home by unqualified families.
We may see some children ‘shell-shocked’ by the process of returning to a school environment. Many will be overwhelmed. Just having to get up before 11am will be tricky for a lot of them.
Unfortunately, there will also be many children living in toxic, chaotic and/or unhealthy environments which will likely have been made worse by the lockdown restrictions.
This is particularly important to consider for children with SEMH needs, since the lockdown may well have increased the difficulties these children have to contend with.
Children with ASD and ADHD will meanwhile find the reversion to ‘normal’ school life extremely difficult to manage.
Staff must be prepared to recognise concerning behaviours when supporting the wellbeing of SEND children. Many will need to be gently eased back into school, while simultaneously trying to preserve familiar routines.
Children with SEND are likely to have found lockdown to be a traumatic experience, and an impending move to a new class or school may be overwhelming for them.
This year, children will have started their new classes with very little or no transition into their new classes, year groups and schools. As we know, most children with SEND require additional support with this, and schools would normally have done a lot to help prepare children for their moves.
There will obviously need to be some creative thinking around the best way of supporting these children under the current conditions. It is likely that it will take significantly longer for these children to settle in and offering additional support during this time will be important.
One Page Profiles, transition sheets and CPOMS records will all be really useful to help transition. The more information that is shared, the easier it will be.
Back to ‘normal’
The final consideration – and least important, I think, given current circumstances – is to remember that children’s progress will have been affected. Although, some children with SEND may have actually made accelerated progress due to having uninterrupted support at home, others will definitely have regressed.
For some children with ASD/ADHD and SEMH, their needs may have made it impossible for them to learn at home, thus requiring an extended period before they’re able to settle back into standard school routines.
The Government has talked a lot about the importance of catch up and the need to focus on maths and English. Although I can understand the concern, I’m not sure it should be the main concern for children with SEND.
Children with SEND are often playing ‘catch up’ and so this experience will not feel too different.
If a child is not ready to learn, any attempts at interventions, tutors etc will have very little impact. What we need to do is get these children back on an even keel and then we can see what needs to be done and what gaps need to be filled.
Top 10 things to remember
1. The most important thing is that children are as safe as possible under the current circumstances.
2. Children’s wellbeing will inevitably have been affected by the lockdown, but not all will necessarily have been affected negatively.
3. Children have had little or no transition – this will affect their ability to settle into their new classes.
4. There have been a few subtle changes to EHC legislation. Keep an eye on whether these are upheld or if there are any further changes.
5. Be vigilant for any safeguarding disclosures following the lockdown – these may increase this term.
6. Get children back onto an even keel first – then worry about catch-up.
7. Speak to parents and carers as often as possible.
8. Make sure that staff know the warning signs to look for among children and parents, and how to recognise when their colleagues may be struggling.
9. Remember how important routines are for some children with SEND, try and get these in place as soon as possible.
10. Check in with your one-to-one staff to reassure and support, if needed.
Karen Pilling is currently deputy headteacher and SENCO at Chapel Street Primary School – a three-form entry primary school with a diverse cohort.