Charities and campaign groups working with parents and carers of children who have an education, health and care (EHC) plan have called for more clarity on which children can attend school during the latest lockdown.

The call came as schools, both mainstream and in specialist settings, struggle with staff shortages, safeguarding concerns and the dual demands of providing blended learning for students at home and in school.

Education unions are also worried about staff safety as Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced today that the number of patients in UK hospitals with Covid-19 is now above 30,000 with 1,041 new deaths, the highest daily figure since April.

During the first lockdown in March, only between 1.5% and 10% of all children with EHCPs went to school. A poll from the Disabled Children's Partnership, also found that parents of children with learning or other disabilities reported an increased caring load, both for themselves and for their disabled children's siblings during that time.

Many felt exhausted, stressed, anxious and abandoned by society, but were particularly concerned about the pressure of children's behaviour and mental wellbeing.

The majority (64%) of parents were worried about how much home school they were doing with their disabled child. Nearly a third (32%) said they were receiving no support specific for their child's needs from school, but a quarter said they were getting good support.

Current Government guidance on attending school 

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on 4 January 2021, guidance provided by the Department of Education and the Cabinet Office states that only children of critical workers and vulnerable children and young people should attend school or college. All other pupils and students will receive remote education.

Vulnerable children and young people include those who:

  • are assessed as being in need under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, including children and young people who have a child in need plan, a child protection plan or who are a looked-after child
  • have an education, health and care (EHC) plan
  • have been identified as otherwise vulnerable by educational providers or local authorities (including children’s social care services), and who could therefore benefit from continued full-time attendance. This might include young carers and those who may have difficulty engaging with remote education at home (for example due to a lack of devices or quiet space to study).

In a statement, the charity IPSEA (Independent Provider of Special Education Advice) said that "the repeated bringing together of vulnerable children with those children who have an EHC plan in the guidance is disappointing. Our CEO, Ali Fiddy, raised this before the Education Select Committee last year; children and young people are not vulnerable by virtue of having SEND. They are vulnerable because of the way the education system treats them."

A Department for Education spokesman said in a recent Times article that “Special schools remain open to vulnerable children and children of key workers. We are working closely with the sector and will publish guidance in due course.”