COVID-19 – schools closing edition

All nurseries, schools and FE settings are closing to all children other than those who are cared for by at least one key worker and those who are “vulnerable”. There is quite a wide defintion of vulnerable for these purposes, giving a non-exhaustive list of:

  • supported by social care
  • safeguarding and welfare needs, including Child in Need Plans
  • those with Child Protection Plans
  • Looked After Children
  • Young Carers
  • disabled children
  • children with EHCPs
  • other children with “social” difficulties [which in this sense seems to be more of a reference to their family circumstances than to difficulties the child has interacting with their peers and staff at school]

Some of those definitions are overlapping: ie. a child with a Child Protection Plan, will have safeguarding and welfare needs and will be being supported by social care.

It is explicit that children do not have to be sent to school just because they meet the criteria of “vulnerable”; though for children where there is extensive social services involvement on a child protection basis, any decision to not send them to school should be discussed with the child’s social worker to avoid allegations being made that the child has been removed from school to conceal abuse.

Some children will also meet the criteria for vulnerability to COVID-19 due to eg. asthma, cerebal palsy, diabetes, learning disability. A smaller sub-group will meet the criteria for extra vulnerability to severe side effects eg. those receiving chemotherapy. For many of these children, particularly those in the latter group, it will be better for them to be somewhere other than school if at all possible.

The children with some of the most complex needs in residential special schools will probably need to stay where they are with their existing, familiar staff teams, so far as possible.

The issue as I see it is that the pandemic is going to be a marathon not a sprint and what can be put in place over the short term may not be sustainable for some months. There are considerable risks attached to keeping children out of school, where school is part of the “safety net” for the family. If you are living somewhere where it is difficult to safely take your child outside without getting too close to other people, there are likely to be considerable overall advantages of them going to school and being able to use the school playground. [You may for instance have a child with behavioural needs that mean you need more than one adult to manage them outside and there’s only one person available. you might live close to a main road, be unable drive and not have any open space within walking distance]

The patchiness of the provision and the way it is going to change to acommodate the changing numbers of children and the different staff involved may make it provision that is difficult for some autistic children to use. Conversley, I suspect some other children are going to shine in the different setting, with fewer pupils and staff and different activities.

My conclusion on this question is that it’s best to retain flexibility in your own thinking: you might conclude you don’t want to send your child to school (despite being able to due to being a key worker/them being vulnerable) and you’ll manage another way. You might equally conclude they need to go to school now and find yourself changing your mind in a couple of weeks time. The flexibility to send / not send children to school should be there over time, so any decision you make now isn’t one you’re going to be stuck with through the pandemic.