In May 2020, the Education Committee called for evidence into how the outbreak of COVID-19 is affecting all aspects of the education sector and children’s social care system, examining both short term impacts, and the longer-term implications particularly for the most vulnerable children.
With the majority of pupils out of their classrooms, many parents or carers juggling work, family and supporting home learning, and teachers switching to digital delivery and daily ‘safe and well’ phone calls, the transformation we have had to undertake is an urgent response to an urgent moment.
Throughout the COVID-19 challenge our alternative provision and SEMH (social, emotional and mental health) special schools have remained open to vulnerable children and the children of key workers and our school leaders and staff have gone above and beyond in continuing to make a provision and provide support to our pupils.
Our overriding mantra being: ‘If we can do so safely then we will’. Our ‘unlock plans’ for schools therefore aligned with three key conditions:
- Staff must be confident that they are safe.
- School leaders must be confident in the arrangements they put in place adhere to the government guidance.
- Parents and pupils must be confident enough in our arrangements so pupils attend.
For our pupils the difficulties and disadvantages of life in lockdown are all the more stark. Some children are living in challenging home situations, some are unable to access the technology needed for home learning and some are struggling with their mental health and wellbeing. The post COVID-19 consequences are significant as the performance gap is widening, access and equality is decreasing.
As we start to emerge from lockdown, and schools being to reopen fully, the post COVID-19 challenge to all of us will be to act on closing the vulnerable performance gap by sustaining the best elements from the last few months:
- Give teachers the ability to prioritise therapeutic as well as an academic approach to education, in support of achieving meaningful qualifications, sustained positive destinations and better social outcomes for vulnerable young people or those with special educational needs.
- Continue to drive the unification of sector leadership and provide opportunities to do so, strengthening relationships across the board, from mainstream and AP, as well as other local agencies working with vulnerable young people.
- Develop a clear plan for digital inclusion for those students currently without access to technology for home learning. Many of the young people we work with are already at a significant disadvantage in life, and access to digital and technology should not be one of the additional barriers they face.