Dear parents and families,
First of all, can I apologise for not writing a blog for a couple of weeks. As you can imagine, it’s been a really busy period.
Let me tell you what I’ve been up to.
About three weeks ago I was asked to join a meeting with the Schools Minister, Vicky Ford. At that meeting she intimated that the government would look positively on the setting up of a National SEND Reference Group. One of the challenges, that they acknowledged, was ensuring that the opinion of key professionals was sought prior to guidance being circulated.
I decided I would take the bull by the horns and set about working on the membership of the aforementioned group. It meant a number of emails, phone calls etc. until I’d eventually put forward a group that government was comfortable with (you can find the list of members here). It has been set up as a schools and stakeholder group and represents organisations that are commissioned to deliver an educational offer. Families and parents are represented through other active groups.
This is what we discussed in our first virtual meeting earlier in the week:
- Current and new guidance – we expressed concerns that, as guidance was being read line by line, this had the potential to cause ambiguity. It was obvious that this was unintentional. We also raised that the blanket use of the term ‘vulnerable’ was unhelpful, whilst accepting that it is not practical to list every reason for an EHC plan, diagnosis etc. However, we did ask the DfE to consider distinguishing between medically vulnerable, socially vulnerable, academically vulnerable and behaviourally vulnerable students. The DfE said they would share drafts of future guidance with this group for comment as appropriate. In relation to current guidance, we have been asked to identify suggestions for modification to support clarity via the chair.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – it is clear that PPE is high on the agenda of schools and the DfE. All of us want to work together to ensure the safety of both students and staff. We asked for urgent advice for the medically vulnerable students for whom close contact was inevitable due to need for care and other interventions, and also when working with students who go into crisis where close contact may be required to support self-regulation. The DfE are constantly reviewing guidance on PPE. I’m expecting further guidance early next week.
- Testing – we discussed the various tests that are presently available. The two that are more readily available appear to be most useful when an individual is symptomatic (i.e. has presented with the symptoms of coronovirus) and/or has recovered from having coronovirus (these tests can confirm if an individual has had the virus). From a (traditional) school opening, the testing still appears to have a way to go before we can safely redeploy our staff teams as the proportion of staff members that are presenting in this way is very, very low.
- Planning to return to “conventional” schooling – whilst we do not know when this will happen or indeed how this will happen, the DfE assured us that they would give lead in time between the announcement that schools are to return and the actual date of return. It’s my view that conventional schooling could be quite a while off yet. I think all of us will need to think about a narrative where schooling has a different meaning. It will almost certainly continue to involve virtual home-schooling, it will involve phone calls home, it will involve social isolating and some form of social distancing. I think it will, inevitably, when the ‘lock down’ starts to shift, move to children and young people being re-admitted into school buildings but maybe only for certain days, for certain subjects and on reduced weekly timetables. I’m acutely aware that this will lead to frustrations but I will ask you to reflect on our Trust’s key principle through this period – we need to keep all our children, young people, staff and families as safe as we possibly can do through this pandemic.
So back to the meeting. It was clear that the colleagues from the Department for Education who joined the meeting (6 in total) were clearly listening to the concerns we raised, along with the ideas expressed during the meeting. We will meet fortnightly, although we also agreed that we would receive and comment on any documents from the DfE in between meetings. It was also acknowledged that due to the speed at which things are changing, we may need to reconvene in between the planned fortnightly schedule.
I can assure you all that I am working tirelessly to get all of our children and young people back into some kind of safe routine. I know how much many of them miss their friends and school staff. I know how difficult it is to “home educate”. From our Horizons perspective, I know it’s causing families massive disruption and inconvenience. However, it’s important to remember that the pandemic will pass.
Thank you for your continued support. I know our school leaders really value your words of encouragement and love sharing the examples of the children and young people working from home.
If anyone has any concerns or queries, please feel free to contact me directly through my email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find all Graham’s previous updates and blog entries here