One of the country’s largest special schools has sourced thousands of pieces of PPE to allow staff to care for pupils requiring “sustained close contact”, as “blanket” government guidance continues to say they don’t need it.
Severndale Specialist Academy in Shrewsbury this morning received 1,000 masks and 550 goggles to protect staff and pupils in school during the coronavirus pandemic.
Principal Sabrina Hobbs said the school worked with Shropshire Council and regional schools commissioner Andrew Warren in order to secure the vital equipment which will allow it to care for more vulnerable pupils during the pandemic.
It shouldn’t be about the setting or the sector, it should be about the duties that we are expecting staff to undertake
She said the school had previously “risk-assessed the fact that if we are working closely with children without the use of PPE the only thing we can support them with is social distancing”.
This meant in recent weeks the school roll had dropped from 405 to around 12 as it remained closed to all but the children of critical workers and the most vulnerable.
However, the arrival of the equipment will allow it to expand to around 32 pupils from Wednesday and provide care for “any child who requires sustained close contact working”.
Data released this week shows that attendance nationwide is about 1 per cent, with about 5 per cent of vulnerable pupils in school.
Hobbs explained many pupils at the school have complex needs and don’t understand the need for space, exhibiting behaviour such as spitting and grabbing.
Staff routinely need to be in close proximity with pupils to provide personal care, feed pupils, administer medication, aid physical development or for behaviour management.
With the arrival of PPE, Hobbs said the school “can support those needs in a safe way, whilst also supporting the safety around the COVID-19 situation for pupils and all staff.”
Staff are being provided training on how to properly wear and use the equipment while pupils returning to school have been sent pictures and videos of staff in protective gear to allow them to acclimatise to the changes.
The move follows recent Department for Education (DfE) guidance which admits teachers working in special schools are often unable to follow social distancing guidelines when providing care.
It states: “Some children and young people with special educational needs present behaviours that are challenging to manage in the current context, such as spitting uncontrollably.
“It will be impossible to provide the care that some children and young people need without close hands-on contact.”
However, to counteract the increased risk facing SEND teachers and pupils the government advises “minimising close contact and having more frequent hand-washing”.
It reiterates “scientific advice indicates that educational staff do not require PPE. This is needed by medical and care professionals providing specific close contact care”.
Hobbs said the DfE’s “blanket” guidance doesn’t appreciate the “different nuances” between educational settings – with special school staff taking on responsibilities “more in line with clinical and care duties”.
“It shouldn’t be about the setting or the sector, it should be about the duties that we are expecting staff to undertake”, she said.
The principal praised Shropshire Council for sourcing the equipment available and explained it is likely the school will be taking on additional costs in order to access the PPE.
Hobbs said she was unsure of the exact price of the equipment as the council had made arrangements but added: “We are the only special school in Shropshire so it’s vital we are able to meet children’s needs in a safe way – the monetary bit will come into play later.”
Education unions have been calling for PPE to be made available for SEND staff.
The NEU said it wants the DfE to “revise its new advice” as it has “failed to understand fully the risks to staff working in severe learning difficulties and profound and multiple learning difficulties special schools who are constantly exposed to potential airborne infection from their pupils”.
Furthermore NASUWT advise “schools should explore the provision of appropriate Personal Protective Equipment for staff, particularly for those staff who are unable to practice social distancing in the workplace, due to the needs of the children they are working with”.