Health and social care support was not provided to more than half of pupils with special needs who were entitled to it during the first lockdown, leaving schools to “plug the gaps”, according to new research.

The non-educational services that are meant to be provided to pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) “need to be maintained in any future lockdowns”, said the study from the Nuffield Foundation.

The recommendations follow the study revealing healthcare support was either not provided at all, or only to a small extent, for 65 per cent of pupils attending school or college, while 83 per cent of those at home got nothing or only a little.

Meanwhile social care and support, including respite care and home help, was either not provided at all or only to a small extent for 57 per cent of pupils – while 77 per cent of pupils at home got nothing or only a little.

‘They expected us to pick it all up’

The survey of 200 senior leaders of special schools and 40 special schools and colleges, carried out by ASK Research, revealed the pressure heaped on staff in SEND settings as a result.

One school responded: “These pupils all have EHCPs, which are meant to involve support from three services. But everyone else just went home and expected us to pick it all up”.

The government choose to relax the duty on councils to provide support for pupils with EHCPs during the pandemic for three months last year, after which they faced a judicial review and decided against a repeat in the current lockdown.

However guidance published about three weeks ago said the decision is being kept “under review”.

But the report warns against such a move and says the “effectiveness of remote delivery” of such support “must be urgently assessed”.

Education staff have attempted to “plug the gaps” left by the loss of health and social care support “by carrying out family welfare checks, providing food and counselling to families and managing an increasing number of safeguarding issues”, it revealed.

Home learning for special needs pupils ‘extremely resource intensive’ for staff

The special needs sector has also been under immense financial and workload strain because so many pupils continued to stay at home, it added – even though any child with an EHCP is deemed vulnerable and able to attend school in lockdown.

Data from November 2020, when schools were supposed to be back to normal, showed that one in four pupils with EHCPs were not attending their specialist provision, the report pointed out.

And January data suggested that only around a third of all pupils with EHCPs were attending their school or college.

The high proportion of SEND pupils learning from home is likely to continue, the report warned, so more funding is needed for the special needs sector “as this is extremely resource intensive for school staff” who have to get equipment home.

Special needs pupils will need more support than in EHCPs

Meanwhile almost three-quarters of school and college leaders (72 per cent) thought a significant proportion of their pupils would require a “greater amount of support” after the first lockdown than was previously set out in their EHCPs.

“Physical deterioration could be permanent and therefore children will have far greater needs than before lockdown,” said one school. “This will mean more detailed assessments and more costly provision.”

The report’s other recommendations to the government included getting more staff into special schools to cover staff absences, guidance tailored for specialist providers in any future lockdowns, and continuing to closely monitor special needs pupils attendance data.

EHCPs were introduced under the Children and Families Act in September 2014 in order to clearly describe the support a pupil should be receiving from all three services, overseen by the council. Pupils with EHCPs now make up 98 per cent of special school populations.