COVID-19

We recognise these are difficult and unprecedented times. As the situation is moving rapidly the Government and Suffolk County Council will provide further updates and guidance. In this section we will try to answer your questions about COVID-19 and what it means for your child's education.

Read the Minster's open letter to the SEND sector 24 March 2020


School closures

The UK Government announced that schools (including Independent schools) in England will close from 20 March 2020 until further notice.

Vulnerable children and children of 'critical workers' may still attend, though the advice for 'critical workers' is to keep their children at home wherever possible. The government has asked schools to remain open only for those children who absolutely need to attend.

Read the Government advice for parents about the school closures

Read the Government guidance for schools

Read the Government guidance for further education settings (post-16)

Vulnerable children include those who are supported by social care, those with safeguarding needs (including child in need or child protection plans), 'looked after' children, young carers, disabled children and those with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan. The majority of children with SEN, who receive SEN Support at school but do not have an EHC plan, would be expected to stay home unless they have a social worker or a parent or carer who is a critical worker.

Read the Government guidance for schools around maintaining education for these groups

Read the Governement guidance on vulnerable children and young people

Cancelled Exams

SATs, GCSEs, AS and A level exams due to take place Summer 2020 have been cancelled. 

Read the Government Frequently Asked Questions about the cancellation of exams

Ofqual information and guidance for schools, students and parents about how 2020 qualifications will be graded (3 April 2020)

Free School meals

The Government have issued some guidance to schools and local authorities about the arrangements for free school meals during the crisis.

Read the Government guidance around free school meals

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, which considers complaints about local authorities, has temporarily suspended its central phone line and online complaint submission form from 18 March 2020. New complaints will not be accepted until further notice. They have also said that the progress of existing cases may be limited. However, if you have already registered a complaint, they may continue to work on it and make email and telephone extensions of individual staff available. 

Read their latest news

Read the information from Suffolk County Council about school closures

Specialist/SEND Education services

The latest update from Suffolk (20 March 2020) includes information about:

  • School offer for children with EHC plans and those in special schools
  • Education Outreach services (eg. Dyslexia Outreach Team; County Inclusion Support Service; Multi-agency assessment programme etc)
  • EHC needs assessment process
  • Specialist admissions panel & decisions
  • Short break offer

Read the full Suffolk SEND update (COVID-19)

Read the message from Specialist and the Psychology & Therapeutic Services (26 March 2020)

Keyworkers/Vulnerable children

Suffolk have a helpline for Key Worker parents, (or for parents with a child classed as vulnerable) to assist them if their usual school is not open. Parents are able to call this line and the local authority will liaise with schools to find them a place: 

Call 01473 263985

Will my child still get their SEN provision?

If you feel your child needs to continue to attend school and their school is closed, or that missing out on a specific provision in their EHC plan is a risk to their health, wellbeing or safety, contact the Family Services Team at the local authority to discuss what could be put in place: Family Services Team contact information (opens PDF).

At this time things are uncertain, and you may not be able to get the answers you want or need. Be open and flexible when you talk to the local authority and service providers. Work with them to explore whether some of the support can be provided remotely.

See also the dropdown: 'What does the Coronavirus Act 2020 mean for children with EHC plans?'

Children receiving social care can expect to receive education provision at school unless it is unsafe for them to be there. If a parent feels they can safely keep their child at home, the advice is that the school, social worker and parent will discuss this together.

Some children might be at significant risk if their education, health and care needs can't be met. This may include those with profound and multiple learning difficulties, and those receiving significant levels of personal care support at their education setting. Local authorities will ensure that there are education settings open for these children.

Schools, colleges, other training providers and local authorities will consider the needs of all children and young people with an EHC plan. They will take into account any underlying medical conditions with advice from health professionals, and alongside the views of their parents make a risk assessment for each child or young person.

Local authorities will work with schools to keep them open, but this might not always be possible, for example if it's unsafe for staff or pupils to do so. If your child needs to go to school but their own school is closed, resources will be pooled on a local level and they will be given a place in another school.

Children in alternative provision

The government wants to keep alternative provision settings open due to the small but mostly vulnerable number of children who attend.

The guidance says that these children are at particular risk of not being at school, while alternative provision settings are especially well-placed to care for vulnerable children.

If an alternative provision setting is closed, safeguarding assessments will be made for each child and the local authority will make appropriate arrangements.

In Suffolk this is currently being looked at and further updates will follow. 

As the government has requested that schools continue to provide education for children with EHC plans, this suggests that special schools should remain open.

For some schools this has not been possible due to staff absence. Children attending special schools are likely to have more challenging behaviour or complex medical needs, leading to increased concerns around meeting needs where staffing levels dip.

It is going to be difficult for schools to deliver all of the provision set out in an EHC plan due to the disruption caused.

The government advice suggested that it may be necessary for some schools to pool their resources. The local response to the crisis will be fluid in the days and weeks ahead.

Remember the government advice is clear that children should be kept at home where possible. If you feel your child needs to continue to attend school and their school is closed, or that missing out on a specific provision in their EHC plan is a risk to their health, wellbeing or safety, contact the Family Services Team at the local authority to discuss what could be put in place: Family Services Team contact information (opens PDF)

Keyworkers/Vulnerable children

Suffolk have a helpline for Key Worker parents, (or for parents with a child classed as vulnerable) to assist them if their usual school is not open. Parents are able to call this line and the local authority will liaise with schools to find them a place: 

Call 01473 263985

The Coronavirus Act 2020 is in force for up to two years and allows the Secretary of State to issue a notice to temporarily 'disapply' (relax or remove) some key duties around EHC plans:

  • The duty to make the provision in an EHC plan (section 42 of the Children and Families Act 2014) may be amended to a ‘reasonable endeavours’ duty. This means the local authority would need to do whatever it reasonably can to put provision in place, but if they cannot do so they would not necessarily be breaching the law.
  • The duty on schools to admit a child where the EHC plan names that school (section 43 of the Children and Families Act 2014) 
  • The duty to carry out an Annual Review or a re-assessment of needs.

A notice can be issued for one month at a time and the Secretary of State must give reasons for doing so.

This would give local authorities the ability to divert valuable resources to where it is needed for the short-term. There is no automatic change to the law, these changes will only apply should the Secretary of State issue a notice.

However, it is going to be difficult for schools and the local authority to deliver all of the provision set out in an EHC plan due to the disruption caused. Services may be provided in different ways, using digital means to deliver support remotely. As we hear more news we will update our information here.

Read the Government summary about the impact of the measures being taken 

Read the Coronavirus Act 2020 (Schedule 17 relates to the relaxation of provision)

Read the FAQ's from The Children's Legal Centre

If you have an appeal in progress, the current position is that this will still go ahead but will most likely be held remotely. Some appeals have already been heard using telephone or video links.

If you wish to delay your appeal due to the crisis, perhaps you are finding it difficult to gather evidence for example, you could request a postponement by using the 'request for changes' form.

You can still make a new appeal. The SEND Tribunal service have said they will be prioritising 'phase-transfer' appeals. A 'phase transfer' is when a child or young person is due to move up to the next phase of their education in September (primary to secondary, secondary to post-16 etc).

Read the advice about Tribunals planning and preparation

Read the information from the government about appeals using telephone or video links

Read the information from IPSEA about COVID-19 and appeals

Hungry Little Minds (early years)

BBC Bitesize (primary, secondary and post-16)

Chatterpack (primary and secondary)

Twinkl - free learning packs for parents  (primary)

www.educationquizzes.com (primary and secondary)

www.oxfordowl.co.uk (primary)

www.teachitprimary.co.uk (primary) Free packs for a limited period

General support and advice for young people around mental health issues:

ChatHealth -  young people 11-19 can text a school nurse on 07507 333356 (for advice on a range of issues including; sexual health, drugs, self-harm, bullying)

4YP - local charity organisation supporting young people 12-25 with social, emotional and physical health and wellbeing in Suffolk (drop-ins and counselling)

Kooth - online counselling and emotional wellbeing support service for young people in Suffolk aged 11 to 18

Moodwise - digital tools and resources to support young people's emotional wellbeing

Young Minds - young people in crisis can text: YM to 85258