A Welcome Back to Education from Dame Christine Lenehan

Welcome back to education!

As education settings prepare to return in full in September we have been looking at the questions that schools, colleges and parents have been raising about returning to school safely.  As part of this, we surveyed Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Information Advice and Support (SENDIAS) services last week to get a feel for concerns, challenges and solutions and have worked with our colleagues at Contact as they also put out advice for families: https://contact.org.uk/advice-and-support/covid-19/back-to-school-advice-(england)/.

What we know now…that we didn’t before:

I had the opportunity to attend a really interesting round table with the Children’s Minister, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer and advisors from Public Health England and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to look at what we now know about the virus and the risks for children.

There were some really clear steers that came out of it for me in terms of the current evidence:

  • All the evidence is now clear that it is far safer for children to be in school, than out of it, not only in relation to educational outcomes but to health outcomes as well
  • The evidence is now much clearer that children are far less likely than adults to: catch; be very ill with; and spread the virus.

So, what does it mean in practice?

  • That schools can be confident that children can be part of the classroom, so for example social distancing does not apply within bubbles
  • That for children with additional health needs the risk assessments that were in place before COVID-19 should be used as the basis for return and the key is reinforcing the basics in relation to hygiene and health & safety
  • That there are very few children who would be shielded now if the virus returns as all of the evidence shows that they would not be at greater risk than others
  • That schools cannot, and should not use the virus as an excuse to exclude or offroll.

There were some lovely practice examples shared, I was really impressed with Portsmouth Councils Welcome Back Plans and with the use of social stories and videos in some schools to support return and help parents, children and school staff be confident that school was a safe place to be.

What next?

There are of course still some issues to resolve and we were pleased to hear the work of the 'Medicines in Special Schools' group which is looking at children who need aerosol generating procedures and to work with mental health and well-being support to make sure programmes which support anxiety are also available to children with SEND.

CDC will continue to work closely on this, looking at making sure good practice examples are circulated and that issues are highlighted and addressed but it’s good to see the changing evidence and so we really can say: welcome back and enjoy the new term.