School pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic over their peers, and could fall further behind during the third lockdown if they are not given additional support, a new report has warned. The SENCO report highlighted the ‘crisis’ in SEND, and the challenges of delivering universal inclusive provision and differentiation of SEN support as teaching moved online. Research published [19 January 2021] by Bath Spa University and nasen also found that an increase in responsibilities, administrative demands, and responding to national guidance during the pandemic stretched the role of Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCOs) to ‘breaking point’.

The survey found that almost three-quarters of SENCOs said their school experienced challenges with providing virtual support for children with SEN, and eight in ten found it difficult to provide differentiated learning online.

The results also reported a sharp increase in SENCOs’ workloads as schools responded and adapted to the pandemic, which saw them faced with more management tasks and paperwork, including teaching, safeguarding, completing risk assessments, and quickly responding to changing national guidance.

Only one in ten SENCOs were happy with the support they received from Government and local authorities during the pandemic, reporting that expectations and guidance changed frequently.

The report’s recommendations included the need for access to IT for all children to be considered as a ‘critical issue’, and that teachers should be provided with additional support to help them differentiate for pupils with SEND. The report also called for guidance to be given to school leaders in advance to allow them time to plan effectively, for virtual learning guidance, and for senior leaders to consider how benefits reported from a closer relationship with families ‘can continue to be realised in the longer term’.

Dr Helen Curran, senior lecturer in Education: SEN at Bath Spa University, said the global pandemic had ‘exposed the existing crisis in SEND, and amplified challenges that SENCOs already faced, such as a lack of time to execute the role. We know that schools have worked tirelessly to support young people during the pandemic, facing daily challenges, difficult decisions and changing national guidance. As we get to grips with a third lockdown and return to remote learning, there is a real risk that children with SEND will continue to be disproportionally impacted by the pandemic, unless teachers, SENCOs and pupils are given additional support in areas like providing appropriate and differentiated virtual learning.’

Although the research highlighted a number of challenges as a result of the pandemic, there were some positive experiences of online learning reported for some children with SEND, including a reduction in social communication and interaction anxieties.

Additionally, the majority of SENCOs (84.2 per cent) reported an increased focus on communication with parents and families, and most SENCOs (71 per cent) in academies were satisfied with the support from their Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs.)

Professor Adam Boddison, chief executive at nasen said that while the survey ‘shines a spotlight on the strengths and challenges that impact SENCOs in their work, it also exposes some of the hidden challenges that continue to perpetuate inequalities impacting children and young people with SEND and their families. The pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on children and young people’s social, emotional and mental health needs, exacerbating social interaction challenges. It is vital that we support them and the mental well-being of our education workforce. We would like to see routine well-being arrangements put in place following this extended period of national challenge, including priority support for SENCOs.

 ‘Moving forward, it is important that we work collaboratively and share good practice across mainstream, special schools and specialist settings to help all children and young people, particularly those with SEND, to learn and thrive regardless of their background or need.’

 Source Early Years Educator

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