Schools have been telling parents they can’t accommodate pupils with special educational needs and disabilities during the coronavirus pandemic, Amanda Spielman has claimed.
The chief inspector of schools told the National Children and Adult Services Conference this morning that children had been “left without access to therapy and education for months”.
They’ve been told that schools can’t accommodate them. Because it’s too difficult, because Covid risk assessments won’t allow it
Schools Week reported in September how schools were being forced to tell parents of pupils with complex medical needs to keep their children at home because of a struggle to source appropriate protective equipment.
Attendance among pupils with SEND has also lagged behind that of the general pupil population.
The latest attendance data from the Department for Education shows that just 84.1 per cent of pupils with education, health and care plans attended school on October 15, compared with 89.2 per cent of all pupils.
Spielman said the closure of schools and other services had been “devastating” for pupils with severe disabilities in particular, but that many parents “haven’t made an active decision to keep their child at home”.
“They’ve been told that schools can’t accommodate them. Because it’s too difficult, because Covid risk assessments won’t allow it. It’s deeply concerning and, understandably, many parents feel cut adrift.”
The chief inspector also warned that schools “may sometimes be sending pupils home too readily”, in response to misinformation.
Spielman had already warned last month that she feared “fake news” was driving a rise in home education.
Schools Week revealed last month how the government had intervened to urge parents to think again before removing their children for elective home education, after rates soared in some areas.
Today, Spielman said schools were also not immune to misinformation.
“There are myths doing the rounds about what schools ‘have’ to do, or must not do, such as no singing or swimming and keeping all doors open, no matter the weather.
“And there are indications that schools may sometimes be sending pupils home too readily. So, a consolidation and simplification of government advice for schools would be helpful for teachers and parents alike as we head towards the winter.”
But she added that there were would also “sadly be parents who want to avoid scrutiny, to keep their children out of sight – exploiting the situation to their own ends”.
However, Spielman also praised schools that were rising to the challenge of providing education to absent pupils.
She pointed to an example of one school which, knowing attendance might be patchy in September was “doing a really good job providing absent pupils with all of the lessons they missed, to do at home”.
“They’d done it in a really low-tech way, using their existing digital platforms, simple resources, careful communication with parents and a well-managed approach to teacher workload.”
Schools Week revealed yesterday how ministers are considering new proposals from Ofsted for inspections to restart again in January, but without grades being issued.
Full inspections have been paused since the outbreak of coronavirus back in March, but are scheduled to start up again in the new year.
“We will be working remotely where we can – only going on site where it’s necessary to do so, or in response to urgent concerns,” Spielman said today.
“That means our programme of autumn visits to schools and colleges will be done remotely for the time being. But we will revert to in-person visits after the lockdown.”