Families of children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send) have been left “exhausted” and “despairing” by the pandemic which has affected their children disproportionately, according to a report by the schools watchdog in England.
Parents told Ofstedthey had been forced to leave their jobs to care for their children as essential services shut down, while others documented the deterioration in their child’s progress, with some youngsters suffering anxiety, depression, hair loss and sleep loss as a result of the Covid disruption.
“These last few months have undone years of work with my child and we have had to start at the beginning again,” one parent told inspectors. “It was a very dark place for a very long time,” said another, while a third added: “I’m absolutely shattered. No respite. Increased stress.”
Ofsted inspectors found that many pupils with Send missed out on their education or put up with a significantly narrowed version. Essential services, such as speech and language support and physiotherapy, were either lost altogether or subject to longer waiting times.
During lockdown, schools were closed to all pupils except children of key workers and those deemed vulnerable by the government, including children with Send who have an education health care (EHC) plan. According to the report, however, many were unable to access schools, even though they qualified.
The report concluded that children with Send, already at a disadvantage in the education system, have been left “even further behind their peers”. Others are at risk of being incorrectly identified as having Send “simply because they are struggling following extended periods away from their education setting”.
And another group of children “may have new or different needs that have not been identified because they have not been ‘in sight’ of education, health and care professionals”, putting further strain on an already overstretched system.
The report also documented the damaging impact on the wellbeing of children with Send. “Confidence has rapidly reduced,” noted one parent. “Anxiety is high. Access to wellbeing activities nonexistent. Depression. Loss of hair. Sleep disorder. No motivation. Poor personal hygiene.”
The report, which was based on visits to 10 areas in England, found that existing weaknesses in the system had been exacerbated by the pandemic. “By our final visits in the spring, many families were exhausted, even despairing, particularly when they were still unable to access essential services for their children,” said the chief inspector of schools in England, Amanda Spielman.
The national disability charity Sense called for the government’s review of support for children with Send to be brought forward. Its chief executive, Richard Kramer, said: “Today’s report shows yet again how children with Send and their families are some of the hardest hit by the pandemic.”