Children with special educational needs need more support not less

15th May 2020 Clinical Negligence

Children with special educational needs need more support not less

 One of the most prominent stories in the traditional and social media at the moment is the row that has broken out over the government’s decision to start to reopen schools from 1 June.

It’s a highly emotive issue with many parents, teachers and the teachers’ unions strongly against the plan due to Covid-19 safety fears. Others have welcomed the fact that children will be encouraged to restart their formal education.

This is clearly a very worrying time for schools and families across the UK and we sympathise with all their concerns. However there is a related issue that has received nothing like the same kind of media attention and yet affects a very vulnerable group of children who I, and the other brain injury specialists in the clinical negligence team at JMW, represent.

Children with cerebral palsy, and other disabilities that mean they have special educational needs, have seen serious disruption to their learning despite promises that the most vulnerable children would be protected.

Schools have been unable to guarantee their safety due to problems with social distancing and staff shortages. Many vulnerable children are not able to attend on-site provision due to, for example, lack of transport, needing to self-isolate and family members who are shielding.

Home schooling is a challenge for any parent, but for those with children with significant communication, mobility and behavioural issues there is a whole other level of difficulty. In reality it is not achievable for many families, especially when they are already grappling with providing 24-hour basic care to their child with no outside support. It is tragic that the progress these children will have made with their learning, which will have made a huge impact on their well-being and that of their family, may be reversed.

Further to this, a week after schools closed in March the Coronavirus Act was passed. The act contained provisions that could in future allow the downgrading of the legal obligations of local authorities to ensure the special educational needs of these children are met.

It’s extremely concerning that children who are already disadvantaged in so many aspects of life have had their education provision so seriously affected when they are the ones who need more help not less. I see every day the struggles of such families to have any semblance of a normal life and ensure the very extensive needs of their child are provided for. The loss of education for their child could have serious effects for them and I urge the government to not penalise them but find ways to ensure their needs are met.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has published some useful resources to support parents and carers at this time which can be found here.

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Steven Brown is a Partner located in Manchesterin our Clinical Negligence department

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