To provide members of the Sub-Committee with an overview of the support for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) in the Covid-19 pandemic, funding to schools for support for children with SEND and data on SEND support, children’s attendance and exclusion data
The Sub-Committee considered a report on the support for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) in the Covid-19 pandemic which included funding to schools for support for children with SEND and an update on data on SEND support, children’s attendance and exclusion data.
The local authority tracked the levels of young people accessing SEND support through the North Tyneside schools, as well as those who were supported with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).
The overall number of children and young people who had the support of an EHCP continued to rise and North Tyneside remained an outlier in terms of the proportion of the local population who had a plan.
The number of requests for assessment had not slowed down during the last twelve months and this suggested that North Tyneside would continue to be an outlier when compared to national figures. This high rate of children and young people with identified additional needs would put pressure on the service and those of the Council’s partners.
Education in the academic year 2020/2021 had rapidly evolved to meet the dynamically changing needs of children and young people in North Tyneside. Local authority officers from a range of departments continued to support schools to navigate the plethora of legislation and guidance documentation presented by government. This had been the same for all identified groups of children and young people. An additional set of guidance and expectations were made for children and young people with EHCPs or those who were deemed to be vulnerable - the key difference being that full attendance was encouraged earlier. Whilst this additional guidance for children and young people with EHCPs was available, these groups were no less influenced by outbreaks of Covid-19 and periods of isolation.
The academic year 2020/2021 was beset by further disruption to pupils’ education, because of Covid-19. High rates of outbreak within schools and repeated periods of enforced isolation led to an extended period of closure in the spring term 2021. It required schools to move to online learning swiftly. Whilst schools had developed better access and content, it was recognised that generally children and young people with additional needs were challenged by this way of working. However, some were able to access this way of working very successfully. Early indications were that the outbreaks and infection rates had no more or less impact on the group of young people with additional needs.
Continuing high levels of infection during the summer term, particularly within the 10-14 years age range, led to further disruption for pupils. By the time schools began summer holidays, more than half were deemed in outbreak. Whilst there was no evidence that those children and young people who had additional needs were unduly impacted when compared to their peers, the full extent of the impact of two interrupted academic years of education on this group was yet to be realised.
The return to school in September 2021 had seen continued outbreaks, albeit not at the rate seen in the summer term.
Despite the challenges that Covid-19 has brought, local authority officers continued to work with schools to support recovery and to tackle the priorities outlined within the Ambition for Education Strategy and the SEND Inclusion Strategy to improve outcomes for all pupils and specifically those with additional needs.
The social work teams continued to provide support and assessments throughout the pandemic and continued to visit if deemed essential. Visits had now returned to pre-pandemic frequency.
Short breaks for children and young people with disabilities had continued throughout the pandemic, though reduced numbers of places were offered at the height of the pandemic, dependent on risk assessments on clinical vulnerability. Provision was now back to pre-pandemic levels.
There was currently no waiting list for the overnight short breaks service within North Tyneside.
The Report also included an update on access to other services including those provided by health partners, funding and SEND support, attendance and exclusion.
Reference was made to some schools in the Borough which had a disproportionate number of children with EHCP’s.
A Member commented that some EHCP Plans had 10, 15 or 18 hours which depended on the diagnosis and the needs identified. The EHCP Plan was the end of a gradual process and a passport to further support for a child and schools saw it as a right for a child with special needs.
Reference was made to the increase in the number of exclusions for behavioural issues, persistent disruptive behaviour and defiance and it was noted that these young people were supported by cognitive behaviour therapies.
The Chair thanked the Assistant Director of Education and the Interim Assistant Director, Whole Life Disability, Gateway and Emergency Duty for the informative report and for attendance at the meeting.