As government push for all children to return to school, disabled children are once again left behind

Purple brushstroke drawing of a school building. As government push for all children to return to school, disabled children are once again left behind.

As schools and education centres across the UK re-open their doors along with most of society, through our services and engagement with parents and families, we’re seeing disabled children once again being left behind in their battle to access a full education.

Throughout the pandemic, challenges faced by parents with disabled children have been exacerbated. In the context of a SEND system in crisis, with many children and young people routinely not being able to access the support they’re entitled to, this is yet another failure of government to prioritise disabled children and their families. On top an already challenging situation, there’s a growing number of new issues we’re seeing schools having to deal with as a result of Covid-19.

New challenges for parents and schools

One of the issues we’re seeing highlighted is around support for children using specific equipment where guidance has changed as a result of Covid-19. Unfortunately, many children with tracheostomies or children requiring suctioning still haven’t been able to return to school. Schools are being given conflicting guidance which is difficult to implement, alongside facing challenges around sourcing PPE. The lack of funding has left schools unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with the additional measures required to facilitate the safe return to school.

Zach is 5 and hasn’t attended school since March. He can’t return alongside his peers because his school have been unable to source sufficient PPE for staff to support him.   

Zach’s mum, Jemma, told us “He was improving with how he interacted with the world, but now he is again less likely to engage with different sensory activities. He is already far behind his peers and the longer he remains out of school he can only get further behind.”

Similarly, we spoke to Louise’s mum, Ann, who told us “Louise is deafblind and needs constant sensory input to keep her stimulated, happy and alert. It is really important she gets the specialist education she needs, for her holistic wellbeing.”

For children like Zach and Louise there’s a real risk that without getting back to school soon their development will be seriously affected.

Government must prioritise the needs of disabled children

This is just one issue to be added to a long list that families often experience.

All children with complex needs who are clinically safe to return to school should be able to do this. They should have the right care and support around them to facilitate this safely, including having staff available, with the correct PPE, to do health interventions such as tracheostomies. It’s more vital than ever that the government prioritise the needs of disabled children to ensure all children with SEND are able to return to school.

Through our ongoing influencing on SEND we’re calling on government to:

  • Provide clear guidance to schools to enable them to deliver the new support and equipment that children need to remain Covid safe.
  • Prioritise ongoing work on SEND, including urgently publishing the SEND review.
  • Address the funding gaps for SEND and children’s social care.

In the coming months, we’ll continue to gather feedback from the families we support on the challenges they’re facing, and how the system could be improved to shape our responses to parliamentary and government inquiries. We’re also continuing to work with MPs and the Department for Education to ensure disabled children are prioritised in governments plans.

As further restrictions are introduced it’s vital that disabled children and their families are able to access the education, care and support that they’re entitled to. If you’d like to share your story with us, get in touch with us at campaigns@sense.org.uk.

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