The educational system has been flipped upside down in recent weeks.
At the beginning of January, the Prime Minister addressed the nation stating schools were a safe space. Two days later the government made a U-turn and the U.K entered its third national lockdown.
This resulted in all mainstream schools being suspended for all non-vulnerable and non-key-worker students. Special schools however remain open to all their pupils and students.
There are 1,044 special schools and 352 pupil referral units in total across the U.K.
They provide the support of children with complex needs. Keeping their schools open ensures their emotional and social wellbeing are met. This includes life skills allowing them to have the same independence we would all receive from a normal school.
“It is a challenge for us now, in terms of Coronavirus and attendance. All our children have EHCPs (Educational Health Care Plans),” said Joe Barnett, Assistant Head of Beaucroft Foundation School.
An EHCP includes health and care that protects and supports the families around the child and outlines the provision needed.
There are children with Educational Health Care Plans in both mainstream and special schools, although those in mainstream education generally have less specific needs and are able to adapt to life in this environment. Those at Special Schools have more complex needs.
There are four broad types of special schools according to their specialism for their plans to reflect accordingly:
- Communication and interaction
- Cognition and learning
- Social, emotional, and mental health
- Sensory and physical needs
Children with severe autism, learning disabilities and mental health issues require the more tailored and specialised teaching methods and facilities that schools like Beaucroft Foundation provide.
Children that have Educational Health Care Plans at a Special Schools have more complex needs, whereas a child in a mainstream school with a plan will be very inclusive and meet the needs.
With the number of infections rising each day it puts schools like Mr Barnett’s in a stressful situation. The idea of the Government strengthening its lockdown would clash with many schools like Beaucroft.
Mr Barnett said: “That wouldn’t help us, and it most certainly wouldn’t help our families because a lot of our families depend very much on the stability and the care and support we provide for the children.
“They would be very isolated, very at risk, particularly and emotionally on their mental health. So we would be supportive for special schools to stay open,” he added.
Beaucroft School offers blended learning so there is ‘space to face’ on site for the critical key workers and deemed most vulnerable. But for the other youngsters there is remote learning in place.
Mr Barnett explains: “We have that in place, but we know it is not sufficient for our youngsters and families who need that face-to-face learning. It’s upsetting because they depend on our schools being fully functioning.”