Bristol Send, Disadvantage and Coronavirus

Bristol Send, Disadvantage and Coronavirus – Systemic barriers will remain when the schools finally return

Another day, another education report pops up in social media news feeds about how disadvantaged children and young people are becoming more disadvantaged with their schooling due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Today’s feed-filler reports on news from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) which has joined forces with the Sutton Trust, Impetus and Nesta. They will be piloting online tuition for 1600 disadvantaged pupils using methods such as university students and recent graduates training as tutors. The pilot will be evaluated by independent UK centre for social research NatCen, who will be assessing how well the online tuition will ‘mitigate’ against school closures impacting the attainment gap.

Education Policy Institute (EPI) says that over the course of the past ten years, the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and those who are not has narrowed from an estimated 11.5 months in 2009 to 9.2 months in 2019.

The EEF is now concerned that school closures are likely to ‘reverse progress’ made to narrow the gap, with it widening by 36 per cent.

Speaking about the new online tuition programme, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation, Professor Becky Francis said: “The evidence is clear that children learn less when they are not in school. Our analysis today highlights that this particularly impacts those from disadvantaged backgrounds and widens the attainment gap.

“But there are practical steps we can take to minimise the size of the gaps that are opening up – both while pupils are learning remotely, and as they begin to return to school. Catch-up tuition to complement the expertise of classroom teachers and support those who have fallen furthest behind will be essential and we hope our new online tuition pilot will offer practical help to both schools and pupils at this time.”

Whilst these practical steps will only be available to 1600 disadvantaged children and young people through the online tutoring programme, the continuation of education is clearly critical in some capacity for making sure the attainment gap between disadvantaged classmates and their peers does not grow further.

Throughout the coronavirus lockdown, disadvantaged children have been eligible – with restrictions – to attend school. Government guidance states that ‘Vulnerable children and young people across all year groups continue to be expected to attend educational provision where it is appropriate for them to do so.’

Vulnerable children and young people were assessed as those who have a child in need plan, a child protection plan or who are a looked-after child. Those with an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP) and whose needs could be safely met in school following the outcome of a risk assessment. Other children and young people who could still access school included those who were close to receiving children’s social care services, adopted children, those at risk of becoming NEET – no in employment education of training, those living in temporary accommodation or those who are young carers.

Bristol protest send cuts

The reality was far different, with many Bristol special schools – for which you need an EHCP to access – closed due to a lack of staffing. Some Bristol parents told us that even though they were keyworkers and their children had EHCPs, getting them a place at their school was ‘challenging’.

With schools beginning to open from 01 June 2020, Send children and young people are also doubly disadvantaged. From May 2020, the Secretary of State signed off on temporary amendments to SEND regulations concerning EHCPs, allowing section 42 of the Children and Families Act 2014 to be modified. This allowed the legal duty on local authorities and health commissioning bodies to be downgraded to ‘reasonable endeavours’.

The Coronavirus Act 2020 Modification of section 42 of the Children and Families Act 2014 (England) (No. 2) Notice 2020, was extended into June 2020 stating: ‘it may not be possible for all children and young people to attend their education settings on a full time basis for various reasons (for example, if they are clinically extremely vulnerable, or they attend a special school that is operating an attendance rota).’

It continues: ‘Where children and young people are attending an education setting their normal educational programme will probably be disrupted for various reasons, including the implementation of protective measures. This means that in many cases it will not be possible to deliver the special educational provision specified in EHC plans that would normally be delivered through the setting’s normal educational programme (for example, through a differentiated curriculum).’

Bristol City Council’s ‘official statement’ concerning the  ‘Educational Provision for Pupils with EHCPs’ says: ‘Early years settings, schools, colleges and support staff are working extremely hard to respond and adapt to the unprecedented and ever changing situation, and we’re all working together and making best endeavours to meet every child’s needs.

‘The government guidance issued on Sunday 22 March stated that all pupils with an EHC plan should be risk-assessed by their school or college in consultation with the local authority (LA) and parents, to decide whether they need to continue to be offered a school or college place in order to meet their needs, or whether they can safely have their needs met at home.

‘The government continue to emphasise that wherever possible children and young people should remain at home during this time in order to help reduce the spread of coronavirus.’

Which may need some updating to reflect the current school return situation.

Independent community group for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, Bristol Send Justice is currently monitoring the effectiveness of Send provision through coronavirus lockdown. The group is collecting the opinions of parents and carers of children and young people with an EHCP from Bristol City Council  based on their experiences of education and provision during lockdown:

A statement on the group’s Facebook page said of the changes: ‘yet again our children and young people with SEND are an afterthought, no planning and most definitely not at the forefront of any Government decision making.’

Tutoring for pupils with Send in Bristol with EHCPs, is something that the council and schools are already able to buy in and provide through a framework of full time, part time and flexible alternative learning providers. This is outside its Alternative Provision of Lansdown Park Academy, St Matthias Park Academy, LPW Independent School, Bristol Futures Academy and the Bristol Hospital Education Service.

No child or young person with Send in Bristol should be out of education whilst these packages and options in addition to their on roll school are available. Whilst ‘reasonable endeavours’ is a downgrade from an absolute right, it’s not a get-out-clause to do nothing whilst options are available.

Reasonable endeavours as a way of providing educational provision for disadvantaged learners will only work in a system that is not already on its last legs. Disadvantage for learners often comes with multiple systemic barriers, not just Send. Disadvantage is found in those with low household income, in housing, racial barriers, disability, the area you come from, the street you live in.

Families living in Lawrence Hill ward are most likely to be struggling to provide space for home learning. The ward has a staggering home overcrowding rate of 16.5 per cent. The second highest ward for home overcrowding is Easton, with a significantly lower 9.4 per cent and a Bristol average of just 5.2 per cent.

Lawrence Hill also has the lowest rate of car ownership in Bristol, making it harder or impossible for those families to get out of their immediate built up area with their children.

Being the ward with the largest black or minority ethnic population, disadvantage also has a disproportionate affect on those who are not white. The Runnymede report Bristol: a city divided? already stated in 2017 that ethnic minorities in Bristol ‘experience greater disadvantage than in England and Wales as a whole in education and employment and this is particularly so for Black African people.’

Hartcliffe and Withywood ward has the highest number of pupils on Free School Meals, the lowest attainment 8 score, the highest number of Send children and nearby Filwood has the highest percentage of overall pupil absence.

Bristol send crisis and rally

In the Bristol Quality of Life Survey 18/19, results showed that those living in Hartcliffe and Withywood were most affected by health, with statistics showing the ward had the highest percentage of illness or health conditions limiting day-to-day activities.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation 19/20 edition of its annual report on the nature and scale of poverty across the UK,  found that overall, around 4 million of the 13 million people with disabilities in the UK lived in poverty – 31 per cent. The poverty rate for non-disabled people was much lower at 20 per cent. Poverty is ‘especially’ high among families with a disabled adult – 33 per cent – rising to a staggering 40 per cent if there is also a disabled child.

If you’re on a low income, disabled, disabled with a disabled child, claim Free School Meals, live in poor housing, are not white, have a child or young person with Send and live in specific areas of Bristol, then providing learning at home is going to be a struggle at best and impossible at worst.

For Send families, having education that is protected in law being downgraded by government to ‘reasonable endeavours’ leaves vulnerable and disadvantaged children and young people further open to the failings of local authorities and systemic and institutional barriers.

When generic news reports cover children being disadvantaged by schools being shut, they don’t mean all children. The disadvantage they report is still selective and does not encompass every difficult story. Often, the outcry about children not getting an education due to coronavirus is an outcry for the ones who are already able to access school and don’t have to take their local authority to tribunal or judicial review to provide a school place in the first instance. Even that legal action although open to all has barriers in place. Can the family afford the legal fees? Are they entitled to Legal Aid? Do they even know where to begin?

When schools finally open safely across the country, either to selected age groups or at a later date to the entire school population, not every child will be going back to school. Yet again, a silent minority affected by systemic barriers and the incompetency and institutional discrimination of local authorities will have their education blocked.

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