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COVID-19 (Coronavirus): Information for Parents and Carers | Community Directory

COVID-19 (Coronavirus): Information for Parents and Carers

COVID-19: SEND Updates

We recognise that the last year has been particularly difficult and worrying for families of children with SEND, and that it can often be difficult to know where to go for up to date information.

During the course of the last year we have also been publishing periodic FAQ bulletins in response to COVID-specific questions that have come in to us. You can download pdfs of previous version of these via the Downloads link on this page, or follow the dropdown menus below for plain text versions, along with other guidance and information.

If you have any questions that you cannot find answers to, please email us at localoffer@suffolk.gov.uk or call our Local Offer Advisors on 0345 606 1490 and we will do our best to assist you. 

Open letter to parents and carers regarding education for children and young people with SEND: January 2021

Open Letter from Allan Cadzow, Corporate Director for Children and Young People, to all Parents and Carers of Children and Young People with SEND regarding Education Provision in Schools and Post-16 Providers.

As you know, on Monday 4 January, the Prime Minister announced a national lockdown to reduce the spread of COVID-19, which has now come into effect. Full details of the lockdown restrictions can be found at national-lockdown-stay-at-home. On Thursday 7 January the Department for Education published new national guidance about the arrangements for education during this period which can be found at School_national_restrictions_guidance.pdf. We are writing to you to highlight key points from the guidance and provide further details about the local situation in Suffolk.

We understand how challenging it will be for both you and your children to be entering another period of restriction and that you may be worried about your child falling behind in their learning. We want to do all that we can to provide services and support to your family at this time, but we must emphasise how serious the current pandemic situation is. There are now many more people in Suffolk who have, or are affected by Covid-19, than during the previous lockdown in March 2020 and that means that many of the services that your child normally accesses will be affected.

The national guidance states that “during the period of national lockdown, primary, secondary, alternative provision and special schools will remain open to vulnerable children and young people and the children of critical workers only”. The definition of vulnerable children and young people include children who have a social worker, an education, health and care plan (EHCP) or who may be vulnerable for another reason at local discretion ("otherwise vulnerable")

Children with SEN Support

Most children who have additional needs that are supported through SEN Support will be learning at home until February half-term; however, we recognise that some children receiving SEN Support may need face to face learning because of their additional needs and would be included in the new definition of “otherwise vulnerable”. If you feel your child meets the wider definition of vulnerable and should receive a face-to-face offer, please discuss this directly with the education setting.

The new guidance states that: “The requirement for schools to use their best endeavours to secure the special educational provision called for by the pupils’ special educational needs remains in place. Schools should work collaboratively with families, putting in place reasonable adjustments as necessary, so that pupils with SEND can successfully access remote education alongside their peers.”

Suffolk Parent Carer Network (SPCN) has raised concerns that sometimes the remote learning provided for children with SEN Support is not appropriate to their needs. We have raised this with school leaders and recognise this is an area that needs to improve, and Suffolk County Council will work with SPCN and teachers to develop some additional guidance to support both parents/carers and teachers with this.

In the meantime, the national guidance provides some general information for parents about remote education which may be of help: “The remote education provided should be equivalent in length to the core teaching pupils would receive in school and will include both recorded or live direct teaching time, and time for pupils to complete tasks and assignments independently. The amount of remote education provided should be, as a minimum:

  • Key Stage 1: 3 hours a day on average across the cohort, with less for younger children
  • Key Stage 2: 4 hours a day
  • Key Stages 3 and 4: 5 hours a day

If parents feel their children’s school is not providing remote education of a suitable quantity and quality, they are encouraged to in the first instance raise their concerns with the teacher or headteacher and, if the concerns are not resolved, to report the matter to Ofsted.”

Children with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs)

As previously mentioned, the national guidance states that all children and young people with an Education, Health and Care plan will be expected to continue to be able to attend their school or post-16 provider face to face on a full-time basis.

Exceptions: The following pupils with an EHCP should not attend face to face learning:

  • Pupils who are self-isolating
  • Clinically extremely vulnerable pupils are also advised not to attend school/college.

Option for parent to decide their child should not attend: Schools will continue to record attendance in the register for pupils with an EHCP, but if you would prefer your child to learn remotely during the national lockdown period and not attend face to face, youshould advise your child’s school/college and they are expected to authorise this absence. You will not be penalised.

Transport arrangements continue to be in place and can be accessed as usual.

Children and Young People with EHCPs Attending Mainstream Schools and Post-16 Providers: If your child usually attends a mainstream school or college it is expected that they should be able to access fulltime face to face education during the lockdown. Suffolk County Council will be contacting all schools and post-16 providers from Tuesday 12th January onwards to review the arrangements in place for each individual child or young person with an EHCP to receive an appropriate offer. During the last lockdown, your feedback to SPCN highlighted that there were a significant number of families who were not directly involved in planning their child’s offer, so we will be reminding schools and post-16 providers of the importance of involving you and your child in this planning and will follow up with further support if the plans are not in place.

We would ask you to recognise the pressure that schools, colleges, and their staff are under, and bear in mind that there are likely to be times when, due to staff absence levels or COVID-19 restrictions, your child’s face to face offer may be more limited. This situation could differ between schools. If this happens, the school or college should work with you to agree a plan that can best meet the needs of your child given the challenges presented by the pandemic.

Children and Young People with EHCPs Attending Special Schools, Specialist Units or Pupil Referral Units: Our special schools, specialist units and pupil referral units are faced with a particularly challenging situation during this lockdown period. For these settings almost all their pupils will be included in the vulnerable category and therefore the Government’s expectation is that they will be offering a fulltime, face to face offer for most or all their pupils. At the same time, our special schools and pupil referral units in Suffolk are experiencing high levels of staff absence which means they cannot open safely for all pupils to attend at the same time.

The national guidance reminds all school leaders that: “Schools have a legal obligation to protect their employees, and others, including children, from harm and should continue to assess health and safety risks in the usual way.”

It also provides guidance to headteachers about what they should do if this situation arises: “On occasion special schools/ alternative provisions may encounter circumstances where they cannot provide their usual interventions and provision at adequate staffing ratios, or with staff with vital specialist training. In these circumstances they should seek to resume as close as possible to the child of young person’s specified provision as soon as possible.”

This means that at different points in the lockdown period some schools and pupil referral units may have to reduce their offer so that some or all of their pupils have a mixture of face to face and remote learning, or if things become very serious, they may have to close for a short time. This will vary from school to school, as the situation is different for each  one. We have written to Headteachers of our special schools and pupil referral units asking them to work closely with each child’s parents and carers individually to make a suitable plan if this situation arises. We will be working closely with our special schools and pupil referral units to monitor the situation and review the offer for each child.

The legal position regarding Education, Health and Care Plans

On this subject the new guidance says: “Where a pupil has provision specified within their EHC plan, it remains the duty of the local authority and any health bodies to secure or arrange the delivery of this in the setting that the plan names. However, there may be times when it becomes very difficult to do so, for example, if they are self-isolating. In this situation, decisions on how provision can be delivered should be informed by relevant considerations including, for example, the types of services that the pupil can access remotely, for example, online teaching and remote sessions with different types of therapists. These decisions should be considered on a case by case basis, avoiding a one size fits all approach.”

While the law has not changed regarding the provision within EHCPs at this time, circumstances are far from normal, with the pandemic far worse than at any previous point, and while providers will do all that they can to make provision, there will be challenges due to staff absences and illness and safety considerations. This means that education, health, and care providers will need to prioritise their services. That is why Suffolk County Council is undertaking a case-by-case review of the offer being made to each child and young person with an EHCP and we are reminding providers that it is vital that they work closely with parents and carers to agree reasonable solutions that will provide the best possible support for children and young people given service constraints at this difficult time.

If you as a parent or carer are worried about your child’s EHCP offer, the steps you should take are published on the Suffolk Local Offer website at EHCP: raising concerns about delivery.

Other Services supporting Children and Young People with SEND

All providers are doing their best to maintain services during the national lockdown, however all face-to-face services are experiencing staff shortages, and some, increases in demand.

Health services recognise the importance of the continued delivery of support for children, young people and families and will endeavour to provide what is expected. However, the impact on health services is significant and changing fast. Any changes that need to be made to delivery will be discussed and planned with families to ensure there is a plan.

Statutory education, health and care assessments, annual reviews of EHCPs and applications for specialist admissions are progressing as usual.

Suffolk SENDIASS are continuing to offer a full service and can provide impartial information, advice and support service for children and young people with SEND and their parents/carers. Take a look at their website to find out more about the service, for the latest updates and for contact details: www.suffolksendiass.co.uk. They can talk through any questions or concerns about SEND and in relation to the current lockdown measures, school closures or remote learning.

There is no doubt that the coming weeks will be very challenging for us all, and we thank you for your support and forbearance through this challenging period. The vaccines have started to roll out so hopefully that will bring us all the chance to live more normal lives as we move into spring and summer. In the meantime, together we can all continue to play our part to protect ourselves, those around us, and the NHS.

Yours sincerely

Allan Cadzow
Corporate Director for Children and Young People

FAQ Bulletin 5: January 2021

COVID-19 (Coronavirus): Information for Parents and Carers

Issue No.5 : Monday 11th January 2021

Dear Parents and Carers,

As we enter this New Year, it seems clear that normal life won't be resuming just yet. We know that the recent announcement by the Prime Minister of a new national lockdown and the associated changes within education, health and social care have raised many concerns and anxieties for families, and we are grateful to Suffolk Parent Carer Network for sending us the questions they were receiving to help us formulate this edition of our regular COVID-19 FAQ bulletin. We have answered some of those questions here, and will continue to answer more as Government guidance becomes available and as we are able to put that into a local context.

If you have a question not answered within this bulletin, you might like to visit our Local Offer COVID-19 page, or the main Suffolk County Council COVID pages to see if the information you are looking for is there, or email us on localoffer@suffolk.gov.uk and we will do our best to help you. You can also contact our Local Offer helpline on 0345 606 1490, or connect through our Facebook or Twitter pages.

We will continue to publish more question and answer bulletins as the situation develops; if you have any questions you would like us to answer in future editions, please email us at localoffer@suffolk.gov.uk and we will look into it.

I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank you for your support, and assure you of our efforts to continue to meet the needs of children and young people with SEND during these continuing difficult times.

With thanks and best wishes on behalf of the Suffolk SEND Partners,

Judith Mobbs

Assistant Director, Inclusion and Skills

Suffok County Counci

Q1: My child has an EHCP. During the first lockdown we were able to agree with the school whether they should attend or not, but the new guidance says that all children and young people with EHCPs should be in school. Does this mean we do not have a choice as to whether to send them in or not?

The final decision on whether to send your child into school rests with you as a parent or carer. Guidance from the Government states that “Schools and colleges should encourage vulnerable children to attend, but if the parent of a vulnerable child wishes their child to be absent from school, the parent should let the school know that the pupil will not be attending. The Department for Education expects schools and colleges to grant such applications for leave given the circumstances. “

Q2: Is it still the law that the provision specified within my child's Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) should be made in full?

At the time of writing, there has been no change to the law with regards to provision within EHCPs. However, circumstances are far from normal, with the pandemic far worse than at any previous point, and so while providers will do all that they can to make provision, there will inevitably be challenges due to staff absences, illness and safety considerations. This means that education, health and care providers will need to prioritise their services. Providers are being asked to work closely with parents and carers to agree reasonable solutions that will provide the best possible support for children and young people given service constraints at this time.

The Government writes, "For pupils with SEND, their teachers are best-placed to know how the pupil’s needs can be most effectively met to ensure they continue to make progress even if they are not able to be in school due to self-isolating. The requirement for schools to use their best endeavours to secure the special educational provision called for by the pupils’ special educational needs remains in place. Schools should work collaboratively with families, putting in place reasonable adjustments as necessary, so that pupils with SEND can successfully access remote education alongside their peers.

Where a pupil has provision specified within their EHC plan, it remains the duty of the local authority and any health bodies to secure or arrange the delivery of this in the setting that the plan names. However, there may be times when it becomes very difficult to do so, for example, if they are self-isolating. In this situation, decisions on how provision can be delivered should be informed by relevant considerations including, for example, the types of services that the pupil can access remotely, for example, online teaching and remote sessions with different types of therapists. These decisions should be considered on a case by case basis, avoiding a one size fits all approach."

Q3: GCSEs and A-Levels have been cancelled for current years 11 and 13. What does this mean for students from last year who were due to resit exams this year?

We are still awaiting full information on what will happen with exams and assessments due to happen in Summer 2021. On the 4th January the Prime Minister stated that “it is not possible or fair for all exams to go ahead this summer as normal”, and on the 6th January the Education Secretary reported in Parliament that “the details need to be fine-tuned” around what will be used to replace exams, describing “teacher assessment grades with training and support provided to ensure that they are awarded fairly and consistently across the country”. It is likely that there will be a period of consultation with Headteacher Associations and Ofqual before any more detail is released., and we will let you know more detail on this when we have it.

Q4: What is happening about vocational qualifications such as BTECs?

Government guidance on this issued on the 7th January states, "In light of the evolving public health measures, schools and colleges can continue with the vocational and technical exams that are due to take place in January, where they judge it right to do so. This may be particularly important for occupational competence Vocational and Technical Qualifications (VTQs) which can only be fulfilled through practical assessment, such as an electrician. It is for the school or college to decide whether to put on the BTEC exam. If a student is unable to take their assessment this January, they may be able to take the assessment at a later date. In the event that is not possible, we will put in place arrangements to ensure they are not disadvantaged. We are working with Ofqual on these arrangements and will provide updated guidance on this, and on VTQ assessments scheduled for February onwards, in due course".

Q5: In our family we have several children who are expected to learn online, but only one laptop. Can we access additional equipment and if so, how?

Under the existing DfE scheme, Suffolk County Council have been and continue to provide laptops to children with a social worker and to care leavers who do not have sufficient access. Schools have historically also been able to access some laptops, and the Government are working to make more devices available to schools. In the first instance, please talk to your school (or your social worker if you have one) if you need a device.

As a short term solution it may also be possible to access learning websites such as Tapestry, Google Classroom etc through the browser on any other devices you own, such as smartphones, smart TVs, Kindles and gaming consoles. If you are not sure how to do this, various tutorials have been published which you can find online for your device.

Q6: What are the arrangements for COVID testing of school transport operatives (such as drivers and passenger assistants)?

School transport drivers and passenger assistants are employed by the transport operator. It’s the operator's responsibility to provide their services in line with the overall guidance from the Government on operating transport during the pandemic. Schools do have access to testing and it is each school's decision whether to offer this testing to transport operators. Testing arrangements are currently changing at a rapid rate and we continue to raise the issue of school transport testing alongside the schools as we see them as a vital part of keeping the education system open.

There is more information about home to school transport on the Suffolk On Board website .

Q7: We employ personal assistants / support workers / carers directly, including through Direct Payments. How do we request PPE for them?

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the above workers / carers is provided via Central Government, and no charge is applied. Please request PPE online via this link.

Q8: Is respite available for my child or young person during lockdown?

Some respite services are available via Activities Unlimited. These will be subject to changes to legislation and government guidance, will be based on individual risk assessment and will depend on availability and capacity of services. If you have a need for respite, please contact Activities Unlimited on 01473 260026 or email them at info@activities-unlimited.co.uk.

Q9: Can we use Direct Payments / Activities Unlimited awards flexibly during lockdown?

Disabled Children and Young People's Service (DCYP)

We want to support you as flexibly as we can during these times. If you receive a Direct Payment from DCYP, we anticipate that carers will continue to offer their usual support to you, but if you are not able to access your usual support for any reason (including where you are choosing to self isolate because your child has significant health needs), please contact us to explore how your budget could be used to ease any additional pressure within your home.

Direct Payments for the 18-25s

We are allowing more flexibility around how direct payments can be used at this time. If you're not able to access your normal care and support, we want to help you find alternative support quickly and easily. If you are paying for a service you are not receiving and you need additional funds to allow you to make other arrangements, please call Customer First on 0808 800 4005 who can put you in touch with your social work team.

Activities Unlimited

We encourage families to use their AU awards creatively to fulfil our aims of helping you cope, helping your child try new activities and helping you spend time together as a family, even when venues are not able to open. Some of the things families have spent their awards on recently include crafts, toys, games, DVDs, electronic toys and games or outdoor play equipment. There are some restrictions on what you can buy - for more about these, please read our User Guide.

Q10: What support is available if my child’s clubs/short breaks are not open?

Government guidance says that clubs which provide respite may stay open, while clubs whose provision is mostly social must close. We are urgently working with providers to support them to open where permitted, but we know that some have had to close due to staff availability and associated risk assessments. If this leaves you struggling to cope, please contact your social worker or our short breaks team, Activities Unlimited on 01473 260026.

Q11: I am worried our family will not cope with these latest restrictions. What other support is there for us?

Please see our SEND support flyer for a list of many support services, including mental health support, financial support, safeguarding and more. If you have any questions that we haven't covered, you might like to visit our Local Offer COVID-19 page, call our Local Offer Advisors on 0345 606 1490 or email us on localoffer@suffolk.gov.uk and we will do our best to help.

Q12: Where can I find official guidance about symptoms, testing and self isolation?

We understand it can be difficult to know if you are reading the most recent guidelines. You can find the most up to date national guidance from the Government on COVID-19 here. For more local information, you can visit the Suffolk County Council website and read information about the COVID response in Suffolk, including how to obtain a test.

There are various COVID-19 Easy Read guides available online that you may find useful yourself or to share with someone else. We would recommend the Suffolk Ordinary Lives guides and the Mencap Easy Read guides as good starting points.

FAQ Bulletin 4: November 2020

Dear Parents and Carers,

Welcome to our fourth COVID-19 question and answer bulletin for parents and carers of children and young people with SEND in Suffolk.

As I write, we are entering into the new national restrictions that the Government have set out for the next four weeks as part of our response to the Coronavirus pandemic. I know that this year has been a difficult and testing one for many of you, and that these new restrictions again raise questions and anxieties.

As ever, I am grateful to our partners at Suffolk Parent Carer Network and Suffolk SENDIASS for providing us with some of the questions that have been raised through their network. We have endeavoured to answer your queries as fully as we can; and as government guidance continues to be updated, we will continue to review and revise our answers accordingly.

New Letter from Vicky Ford, MP: 9th November 2020

Vicky Ford, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families, has this week issued an open letter to families of children and young people with SEND and those who support them. You can read her letter here.

If you have a question not answered within this bulletin, you might like to visit our Local Offer COVID-19 page, or email us on localoffer@suffolk.gov.uk and we will do our best to help you. You can also contact our COVID helpline for parents on 01473 263985, our Local Offer helpline on 0345 606 1490, or connect through our Facebook or Twitter pages.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your support during these difficult times, and assure you of our efforts to continue to meet the needs of children and young people with SEND during this difficult time.

With thanks and best wishes on behalf of the Suffolk SEND Partners,

Judith Mobbs

Assistant Director, Inclusion and Skills

Suffok County Council

 

Q1: Can my child access more than one service a week (eg school and respite?)

Yes. There has been no return to the "one setting rule" seen earlier in the year, so children can continue to access both education and short breaks / respite at the present time.

All current overnight short break offers will continue through the duration of this lockdown. Our provider already has procedures in place to minimise cross infection risks; these continue to be followed, monitored and reviewed weekly by our Short Break Panel.

 

Q2: My child's taxi driver undertakes other fares during the day. Does this increase the risk to my child, and what steps have been taken to keep them safe?

All our transport operators are aware that enhanced cleaning is required in line with government guidelines. Operators should clean the vehicle at the end of every day as minimum with normal disinfectants and cleaning products; but if they undertake any "double runs" they are asked to wipe down the particularly high touchpoint areas before collecting the next passengers.

You can keep up to date with home-to-school transport information here.

 

Q3: We receive a Direct Payment / Activities Unlimited award. Can we use these flexibly during lockdown while activities are shut?

If you receive a Direct Payment from the Disabled Children and Young People's Service (DCYP), we anticipate that carers will continue to offer their usual support to you. If you are not able to access your usual support for any reason (including where you are choosing to self isolate because your child has significant health needs), please contact your child's allocated social worker to explore how your budget could be used to ease any additional pressure within your home.

If you receive a financial award from Activities Unlimited (AU) for short breaks, the purpose of these remains the same: to help you cope and have time for leisure activities, to help your child feel confident and try new activities, and for your family to be able to enjoy activities and trips together. We recognise that during lockdown, many venues are not able to open.

As ever, we encourage families to use their AU awards creatively – some of the things families have spent their awards on recently include crafts, toys, games, DVDs, electronic toys and games or equipment to be able to play outdoors together. There are some restrictions on what you can and can’t buy - for more information about these, please read our User Guide.

Q4: Will breakfast and after school clubs continue to run during this lockdown?

We recognise the important role that out of school clubs play both in offering children opportunities to socialise and try new activities, and in providing extended childcare for parents. Providers who run community activities, holiday clubs, breakfast or after-school clubs, tuition and other out-of-school provision for children are now able to open for both outdoor and indoor provision provided that they follow the protective measures set out by government in this guidance. If you have a question about the provision your child attends, we would encourage you to talk to the provider directly about what measures they have put in place.

Q5: What is Suffolk's stance on fining parents/carers for non-attendance of children at school during lockdown? Will I be fined if I judge it is safer for my child/young person to be at home or where the announcement about lockdown has caused my child/young person to experience significant anxiety and they do not want to attend?

The guidance provided by the Department for Education makes it clear that the Government is continuing to prioritise the long-term future of children and young people, and therefore early years settings, schools, colleges and universities remain open.

School attendance continues to be mandatory, although the expectations have changed for children who have been identified as clinically extremely vulnerable. For these children, please see the information in question 6.

It is very important for children and young people to attend their education setting for their wellbeing and long-term development, and so the usual school attendance powers and duties continue to apply, including schools and local authorities’ ability to use parental responsibility measures such as fixed penalty notices where appropriate.

Each case where attendance is an issue will be considered on its own merits, and a preventative approach will be taken to remove any barriers that are stopping school attendance. Schools should consider any concerns from pupils, parents and households who may be reluctant or anxious about attending school, and put support in place to address this. The Local Authority continues to work alongside schools to foster a supportive, nurturing approach to families where attendance is an issue.

 

Q6: My child is clinically extremely vulnerable. Should I send them to school?

The list of those who are felt to be extremely clinically vulnerable to COVID-19 has changed since the first lockdown. The Government have this week issued us with the following guidance:

"More evidence has emerged that shows there is a very low risk of children becoming very unwell from COVID-19, even for children with existing health conditions. Most children originally identified as clinically extremely vulnerable no longer need to follow this advice. Speak to your GP or specialist clinician if you have not already done so, to understand whether your child should still be classed as clinically extremely vulnerable.

Those children whose doctors have confirmed they are still clinically extremely vulnerable are advised not to attend school while this advice is in place. Your school will make appropriate arrangements for you to be able to continue your education at home. Children who live with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable, but who are not clinically extremely vulnerable themselves, should still attend school."

You can read the current guidance around protecting extremely clinically vulnerable people here.

Children who live with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable, but who are not clinically extremely vulnerable themselves, should still attend school.

What should I do if my child is not extremely clinically vulnerable but I believe my child is too vulnerable to attend school?

Children who are clinically vulnerable or have underlying health conditions but are not clinically extremely vulnerable should continue to attend early years, childcare and school settings in line with current guidance. We would encourage you to talk to your child's school about your concerns in the first instance, as it may be that after discussion, things can be put in place to address your concerns and enable your child to go to school.

The Suffolk County Council School Attendance team are also available to support schools and families alike, both with understanding the legal situation and with discussing what actions might be able to be taken to remove any barriers to a child attending school. In most instances, your child's school will have a linked officer within the attendance team, but you can find out more about contacting the service here.

 

Q7: If my child / young person is unable to attend education, will the provider be required to set work or remote learning for them? What should I do if this is not provided?

If your child is unwell and unable to attend school, you should let the school know in the normal way. Depending on the nature of the illness, the school may provide remote learning if the child is unable to attend. In these circumstances it is important to make contact with the school to share information about your child's illness.

Where a school or setting has to close or send a child home to self-isolate, they are required to provide remote learning, and so in this instance you should receive a remote learning offer. If this does not happen, you should contact the school office so that they can ensure the appropriate arrangements are in place.

The Department for Education leaves school leaders to decide how best to offer remote learning to their pupils, but a good practice guide has been produced. The type of learning is set by the school, and can take many forms including online learning, online lessons, physical books and textbooks being sent home. The school should also keep in touch with you and your child during this period.

 

Q8: The Prime Minister stated that children could move between homes where parents live separately. Does this apply to young people aged 18+ if they have additional needs and not moving between homes would cause them distress/anxiety?

There is no official rule about this at present, and so parents are encouraged to discuss and decide this between themselves, taking into account both your child's additional needs and the potential for increased risk of cross infection between households.

 

Q9: Will provision in Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) that is delivered by health or specialist services (eg Speech & Language Therapy, Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Specialist Education Services) be provided face to face during this lockdown?

EHCP provision delivered by Health services will be delivered face to face where clinically relevant and physically possible and where the intervention is not adversely impacted by the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). For other children, young people and families, we continue to explore different ways of staying in touch, utilising virtual platforms including Zoom and the Attend Anywhere service.

The Psychology and Therapeutic Services and Specialist Education Services will provide face to face outreach support where it is safe and necessary to do so. If however, we can provide effective support for a child, young person or education setting virtually then we will do so, as this minimises risk of transmission of the virus. Each decision will be based on the needs of the child/young person. In each case we will work with the education setting to assess the risk and to establish how face to face work can take place whilst keeping everyone safe. Many of our teachers and staff in our specialist education services continue to work with children in schools, settings and classrooms every day.

Q10: What should I do if the provision in my child's EHCP is not being delivered?

The Local Authority (LA) has a legal duty to ensure that the special educational provision specified in an EHC Plan is delivered (this is set out in section 42 of the Children and Families Act 2014). The only exception to this duty is if suitable alternative arrangements have been made.

If you have concerns about the provision being made for your child it is best to discuss these with your child's school first, because often solutions can be found by working together. In some cases, hearing from the school about the support that is being provided may reassure you.

However, if this is not possible, or if after doing so you believe your child is still not receiving the special educational provision specified in Section F of their EHC plan, contact should be made with your local SEND Family Service Team.

You can find out more about this, including contact details for Family Services, here.

If you have any queries that aren't covered in this bulletin, you might like to visit our Local Offer COVID-19 page, email us on localoffer@suffolk.gov.uk or contact our Local Offer Advisors on 0345 606 1490 and we will do our best to help.

COVID-19: Information for Parents and Carers. Issue 4: 09/11/20

www.suffolklocaloffer.org.uk

 

5/11/20 Guidance re extremely clinically vulnerable children

5th November 2020

The Government have this week issued us with the following guidance:

"More evidence has emerged that shows there is a very low risk of children becoming very unwell from COVID-19, even for children with existing health conditions. Most children originally identified as clinically extremely vulnerable no longer need to follow this advice. Speak to your GP or specialist clinician, if you have not already done so, to understand whether your child should still be classed as clinically extremely vulnerable. Those children whose doctors have confirmed they are still clinically extremely vulnerable are advised not to attend school while this advice is in place. Your school will make appropriate arrangements for you to be able to continue your education at home. Children who live with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable, but who are not clinically extremely vulnerable themselves, should still attend school."

To read this new guidance in full, click here. 

We understand that this will be upsetting and concerning to many families, and we want to assure you that we will support you through these difficult times. If your child is affected by this new guidance, we would advise you to speak with your school in the first instance to make arrangements for them. If you are not able to do this or you experience any difficulties in doing so, you can email us on localoffer@suffolk.gov.uk or call our Local Offer Advisors on 0345 606 1490. 

FAQ Bulletin 3: September 2020

Dear Parents and Carers,

Welcome to this third edition of our question and answer bulletin as we continue to adapt and develop our response to COVID-19.  This edition has been developed in response to questions received for our recent online FAQs event, and we would like to thank everyone who attended and submitted questions for our panel.

If you would like to be kept up to date on future events, you can contact us via email at localoffer@suffolk.gov.uk or follow our Facebook or Twitter pages.

Q1: How will the LA ensure children are safe when they return to school under the current Government guidelines?

We are incredibly grateful to all our school leaders and staff, who have worked tirelessly throughout lockdown and over the summer to prepare for the return to school.

Each school has undertaken a risk assessment process to determine how they can open to all children from September 2020 safely, in line with Government expectation. These risk assessments cover a number of areas, from the physical buildings to all aspects of the school day, and so you may find that your child arrives at a different time, has different arrangements for breaktimes or that your access to staff looks different to how it used to.

The curriculum will continue to be full and broad, but the arrangements for delivering it may look different, for example student 'bubbles' - the size of which will vary by school - or increased use of well ventilated or outdoor areas. Schools have shown enormous resilience and creativity in their planning, and we are grateful to them for this.

Our Specialist Education Services are continuing to support schools and children both virtually and in person. Our staff will liaise with you and the education setting in each instance in order to plan how their involvement will take place.

Q2: How will you support children's mental health as they return?

We recognise that this has been a difficult year for many young people, and that this is a significant issue for many families. Mental health has become a real focus both locally and nationally, and the Government have made funding available to support children's wellbeing as they return to school. The Wellbeing for Education Return programme will provide £8 million of funding, training, and resources for local authorities to equip education staff with resources, training and ongoing advice and support to promote children and young people’s wellbeing and mental health. This will link to and include resources sensitive to and supportive of children and young people with SEND.

Whilst we know families are rightly concerned about catching up on learning, we are also mindful that children who feel happy and settled in school will find catching up much easier. With this in mind, we have asked schools to focus initially on helping children settle back in with a gentle restart; with opportunities to talk about what lockdown and the summer has been like for them and plenty of time to be with their friends, get used to their bubble and any other new arrangements. Our Psychology and Therapeutic Service have been working closely with schools to support them in this, and have published a number of resources to support families, which you can download on our website.

We recognise that "one size does not fit all", and at the end of this bulletin you will also find links to several specialist mental health support services. We do not want any family to feel alone in this, and would encourage you to talk to your school or contact our parent carer helpline if your child is struggling with their mental health. 

Q3: Will we be penalised if our child is unable to attend school due to their mental health? Is flexischooling or blended learning an option?

We are proud of all our schools and strongly believe that most children are best served by being back in school with their friends, benefiting from the wide range of experience and resources our schools have to offer and achieving their full potential there.

However, as previously mentioned, we have asked schools to take a nurturing approach to helping children return and we are committed to supporting them in that. Echoing the words of Vicky Ford MP in her letter of 2nd September, we recognise that the return to school "may be more difficult for some children and young people, particularly those who have had to shield, received their education remotely without full access to specialist support, or been exposed to a range of adversity and trauma including bereavement, anxiety and in some cases increased welfare and safeguarding risks."

We understand also that, again in Minister Ford's words, "the prolonged period of absence from schools and colleges may contribute to disengagement with education upon return to school, resulting in anxiety which could lead to increased incidence of poor behaviour."

We are asking all our schools and colleges to work with children and young people with SEND and their families and carers so that they receive the education, therapeutic / specialist support, and reasonable adjustments that they need. We recognise each family's situation is different and so we are not looking to move straight into the realm of legal enforcement where attendance has been impacted, but rather to work with each school and family to identify any barriers in place to a full return and work toward overcoming them together.

There is no legal right to flexischooling in the UK, although parents are legally entitled to ask that the Headteacher considers their request. In line with Government expectation that all children will attend education full time from September, we would only expect there to be a blend of on-site and online learning in very limited circumstances: firstly for the few children with highly complex medical conditions who may still only be able to attend part time, or if there are instances of local rises in cases leading to bubbles needing to self isolate.

If your family is are experiencing difficulties around attendance, we would encourage you first to talk with your child's school to see if a solution can be found. You can also contact the attendance service, part of Suffolk Family Focus, who can support you in this. 

Q4: How will you support students to catch up with their learning? 

We recognise that when children and young people return to school at the start of the new academic year, they may not be at the place in their learning they anticipated they would be. School leaders and teachers will also be very aware of this and will using their autonomy and flexibility in reviewing their curriculum plans to meet their pupils’ needs as they return to full time schooling. They will be reviewing what they teach and how they teach it, using their assessments to know where children are in their learning and matching what they teach to meet their pupils’ needs.

The Government has also announced a £1 billion ‘Catch up premium’. £650 million is to support schools in helping pupils make up for lost time and this will be split between schools with a ‘per pupil’ amount. Schools will be able to use this to fund specific activities and decide how to use it, and the Education Endowment Foundation has published guidance to support school leaders in these decisions. £350 million is to enable schools to access subsidised tuition from an approved list of partners and academic mentors - more detail on this is to be announced at the end of October.

Headteachers will have autonomy to use this catch up funding depending on the specific needs within each school. We know that alongside prioritising helping children settle back into school, Headteachers have already been working with their teaching teams to plan how best to help children catch up on learning missed, and our specialist services are liaising with schools to support them in this as needed. If you have any questions about your child's progress or what is being put in place to help them specifically, we would encourage you to speak to their school, who are best placed to advise you.

Q5: How will you support students with EHCPs with regard to confirming appropriate new placements for the academic year 2021/22?

Our Family Services team have been operating as close to business as usual as they can over the last few months, and so the usual process of submitting preferences for placement changes and then the process of consulting with settings has continued on as normal. Many annual reviews took place virtually last term, and we anticipate continuing on with a mixture of virtual and in-person reviews this term, depending on individual circumstances and risk assessments.

We will continue to consult with you about your desires and preferences for your child, including talking to you about any new options which may be appropriate, such as the various new provisions we have been developing across the county, and then work with you and the settings to secure an appropriate placement and name it in their EHCP Plan for September 2021. For children in Year 6 who will be moving up to secondary school in September 2021, and for children in Year 11 and Post-16 placements who are moving on, we will continue to work to published statutory deadlines.

Q6: What do we do if we feel EHCP provision is not being delivered? 

The law is clear that the Local Authority has a legal duty to ensure that the special educational provision specified in an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan is delivered to you and your child (this is set out in section 42 of the Children and Families Act 2014).

If you are concerned that the provision specified in your child's EHC Plan is not being delivered, we would encourage you in the first instance to talk to your child's school about your concerns - you and they know your child best, and it may be that they are able to alleviate your concerns or that you can work together toward a solution.

However, if this is not possible, or if after doing this you believe your child is still not receiving the special educational provision specified in their plan, contact should be made with your local SEND Family Services Team, who will listen to your concerns, record them in writing and then contact your child's setting to discuss the issues with them. Following this, the Local Authority may be in a position to give advice to the setting, or to enlist help from the relevant specialist services, as appropriate, and will confirm to you in writing what has been done.

If you are still not happy with the provision being made, you can make a formal complaint via a number of routes depending on the circumstances. You can find out more about this, or about the actions that will be taken at each stage of the process, here

Q7: What is happening with home to school transport?

Updated government guidance on school travel was issued on 11 August 2020. We are following this guidance so that all children who are eligible for SCC funded school travel can travel to school safely from September 2020, and our transport team have worked closely with transport operators over the summer to prepare for this.

There are three types of routes for pupils who are eligible for funded school travel: closed, shared or public transport routes. The rules for each type of routes are slightly different, and you can read more about them in our parent/carer guide to school travel.

Your child must not travel if anyone in your household has symptoms of COVID-19 (a new persistent cough, high temperature or change in their sense of taste or smell). If you or anyone does have these symptoms, then public health advice should be followed as usual.

If your child is not eligible for funded home to school travel, we have published some more information on other options here.

Q8. I have a different question. Where can I find more information?

We have put links to some of the areas we think you might find most useful below, but if you cannot find the answer to your question, please do call our Parent Carer Helpline on 0345 606 6172 or email us at localoffer@suffolk.gov.uk and we will do our best to help you.

Suffolk on Board - information about home to school transport

Suffolk County Council - main coronavirus information page

Specialist Education Services and the Psychology and Therapeutic Service - including the County Inclusion Support Service, the Dyslexia Outreach Team, the Sensory and Communication Service and the Alternative Tuition Service.

SENDIASS - free, confidential and impartial information about SEND issues and provision

Suffolk Parent Carer Network - a network for communication, support and advocacy

Elective Home Education (EHE) - advice and contact details for the Suffolk EHE Team.

Suffolk Family Carers provide assessment and support to carers (including young carers)

Suffolk County Council - general back to school page

Point 1 - mental health support in Lowestoft and Waveney

Emotional Wellbeing Gateway - mental health support in the rest of Suffolk

The Source - information and advice for young people

Kooth - online counselling and mental health support

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust - NHS mental health and learning disability services in Norfolk and Suffolk

FAQ Bulletin 2: August 2020

COVID-19 (Coronavirus): Information for Parents and Carers

August 2020

Dear Parents and Carers,

Welcome to this second edition of our question and answer bulletin as we move through the next phase of the national response to COVID-19. This edition has been developed in response to questions received from SENDIASS and Suffolk Parent Carer Network (SPCN) and we would like to thank them both for their assistance. If you have any other questions you would like answered, you can contact us via email at localoffer@suffolk.gov.uk  or via our Local Offer Facebook Page.

All of us are facing challenges as a result of lockdown and we don’t underestimate the toll this situation has taken on parents and carers. We continue to do our best to maintain our services, even where delivery of them has needed to look different in recent months.

If you have particular concerns about the plans that are being put in place for your child, please contact your school or setting to discuss this further in the first instance. If after this you are still worried, please contact our COVID helpline for parents on 01473 263985 to raise your concerns.

Thank you once again to all those who have taken the time to contact us with kind words and feedback during this difficult time. Our staff continue to work long hours, often with their own challenging circumstances, and your encouragement is greatly appreciated.

With thanks and best wishes on behalf of all the Suffolk SEND Partners,

Judith Mobbs

Assistant Director, Inclusion and Skills

 

Q1: What will happen if my child cannot follow PPE or distancing guidelines due to their additional needs?

Under current national guidelines, children under 11 years of age are not required to wear a face mask (regardless of the setting). There are many reasons that exempt an individual of any age from wearing a face mask.  These include not being able to put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability, or if putting on, wearing, or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress.

In public places, some people may feel more comfortable showing something that says they do not have to wear a face covering. This could be in the form of an exemption card, badge or even a home-made sign, more information on this can be accessed here. There is no requirement however to carry an exemption card or sign and the general public are discouraged from challenging anyone who is not wearing a mask.

Children above the age of 11 without additional needs are required to wear a face mask in any shops, including food shops and supermarkets, and on public transport. Children and adults are not required to wear masks in hospitality settings, including restaurants with table service, bars, and pubs. Children with additional needs over the age of 11 who would fall into one of the exemption categories are not required to wear a face covering in any setting.

The most up-to-date guidance for educational and social care settings is available here. The following information is extracted from this guidance and provides advice on caring for children who may be unable to follow social-distancing guidelines:

How should I care for young children or children with special educational needs who do not understand why they must stay apart or who ignore distancing guidelines?

Young children and children with special educational needs may not be able to understand the need for social distancing and may also seek close interaction with their peers or adults to provide reassurance at a period of disruption to their routines. It is imperative that education, childcare and children’s social care settings conduct risk assessments around managing groups of children within the setting. This should include limiting the number of children in each group and reducing this to provide more space in each classroom or learning area. As far as possible, small groups of children should be supported by consistent staffing, and groups should remain as consistent as possible throughout the outbreak.

Based on the above guidance, headteachers/setting leads should complete a risk assessment for children with additional needs to take a view of providing the most appropriate working and caring arrangements. Families should be involved in these discussions and made aware of the outcome of these risk assessments.

Specialist services in the Local Authority and other organisations have produced resources around social distancing which you may find helpful.

Q2: Will school staff be wearing PPE?

At the time of writing, Government guidance states that the majority of staff in education, childcare and children’s social care settings will not require PPE, even if they are not always able to maintain a distance of 2 metres from others, and that PPE is only needed in a very small number of cases: where an individual child, young person or other learner becomes ill with coronavirus symptoms and only then if a distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained, or where a child, young person or learner already has intimate care needs that involves the use of PPE, in which case the same PPE should continue to be used.

Q3: How can I help my child re-engage with learning after such a long break?

Your child's school will be focusing on helping your child to re-engage with learning.  You can help by talking about the positive aspects of school (for example, getting back to a routine and seeing friends again). Having plans, making lists and thinking about what is important to us can help us feel prepared, which can make new or tricky situations easier. It will also be useful to share with the school any worries that your child might have.

You may find these resources from our Psychology and Therapeutic Service useful to enable you and your child to plan for their return, and you can also find other resources from our Specialist Education Service here.

Q4: My child’s anxiety has increased due to COVID and lockdown. Will we be penalised if they are unable to attend school due to their mental health?

As set out in their guidance to schools, the DfE expects schools to work with families and the Local Authority to secure regular school attendance for all pupils in September in line with statutory requirements.  However, schools are required to take a balanced approach when dealing with attendance, and will need to be mindful of the impact that COVID-19 may have had on both the pupil and the wider family. It is our hope that all schools will offer a supportive and nurturing approach to children and families who are finding it difficult to return to school. We are asking schools to contact Suffolk Family Focus or their allocated Educational Welfare Officer before any fixed penalty notice issue requests are made, to ensure that all potential barriers have been considered and any appropriate preventative and/or supportive action has been taken before moving toward enforcement.

We understand that the mental health of many children and young people has been affected by the disruption this pandemic has caused, and we don’t want families to feel alone in dealing with this. If your child is anxious about returning to school, you may find this article from Young Minds helpful in terms of starting a conversation with your school about how you can all work together to support their return. Our Specialist Education and Psychology & Therapeutic Services are supporting schools in their plans for reopening, and you can find out more about what they offer here. However, if  you feel your child needs further support, you may also find the following resources helpful, either to work through together as a family or to explore some additional sources of professional support.

The Emotional Wellbeing Hub Gateway

Point 1 – support in Lowestoft and Waveney

The Source – information/advice for young people

Kooth – online mental wellbeing support                

Therapeutic stories for children about coronavirus Five tips for Families leaflets

COVID-specific resources

Free resources for families

SENDIASS Back to School resources

Q5: Will school and specialist services be able to provide all the support in my child’s EHC plan, including 1:1 contact and intimate care?

It is expected that schools, with support from specialist services, will make the provision identified in the EHC Plan unless on completion of the necessary risk assessments for the context of the school and/or the specialist services involved, it is not possible to provide this within the guidance set out by the DfE. Schools and specialist services should include families in discussions about this so that they understand the outcome of any risk assessment and are clear about the support that will be possible. Further guidance on this is expected during August 2020.

Q6:  My child has been calmer since lockdown and we are wondering whether to continue to home educate. What do we need to consider?

Some families have found that this enforced period of education at home has gone well, and we understand that you may be considering continuing this into the new academic year.  Some things it is important for you to consider before making this decision are:

Elective Home Education (EHE) is different from home school provided by the school. In this situation you will be taking full responsibility for your child’s education, including full financial responsibility.

If you choose EHE, your child/ren will be removed from the school roll. If you later change your mind, you can apply again for a school place but there will be no guarantee that it will be available at the same school, or at your local school.

If your child is aiming to take examinations in the near future, the accessing of examinations as an external candidate will need planning well in advance.

There is, of course, a 'novelty factor' in not being at school, but this is likely to wear off over the course of time. Similarly, when their peers and friends return to school this may have an impact on your child/ren - is it likely that they may then want to rejoin?

Some families have reported that being at home has reduced their child's anxiety. If your child is able to express themselves, have you understood from them what it is that has made them calmer? It may be that you could share these observations with their school, to enable you all to support your child to re-integrate successfully. It may also be that these months have enabled your child to have a settled, calm period and that they now feel ready to access learning surrounded by their peers again.

Making the decision to EHE is a big commitment. If you are unsure, it is a good idea to discuss your thoughts with your school and the EHE Team so they can answer any queries you may have but do remember, the decision to EHE should be taken solely by parents - schools should not seek to unduly influence parents either way. You can contact the EHE Team directly on 01473 265139. In addition, you may find the following documents help you to make the right choice for your child/ren:

Information on Elective Home Education

Government Guidance for Parents on EHE

Sendiass ‘Back to School’ Advice

Q7: Is there Local Authority guidance on involving parents with transition plans?

Transition should be carefully planned, and parents should always be involved in talking about transition with their child’s school. Schools will have transition plans for children who need additional support or for those who are moving to new settings, and the Psychology & Therapeutic Service and the Specialist Education Service also work with schools to support transition.

You may find these links useful:

Psychology & Therapeutic Services and Specialist Education Services transition resources 

SENDAT transition resources   Back to school checklist

Q8: What support is available for Young Carers during this time?

SCC have a contract with Suffolk Family Carers (SFC) to help identify and support Young Carers throughout Suffolk.

Due to COVID and many Young Carers and their families shielding, face to face assessments have been suspended in line with government guidelines. Where the Young Carer has chosen, assessments have been carried out by video call, but some Young Carers have chosen to wait until face to face contact is advised able to resume by the government.

SFC have continued to provide additional online support for young carers and their families including a helpline, live and video chat, games, quizzes and online social groups. You can find their online space for Young Carers (5-13) and Young Adult Carers (14-25) here, which includes blogs, tips and information.

Q9: Are the Local Authority providing guidance to schools about where to signpost parents for support?

As a Local Authority we are already in regular communication with schools and school leaders. As part of these existing conversations, we signpost to resources and avenues for support on a range of topics (including COVID-19 and support for families) through our normal mechanisms and discussions. For information, advice and support around SEND, parents can also contact our confidential and impartial SENDIASS service here.

Q10. I feel my child would benefit from repeating this year due to lost time.

We know that schools are working hard to put support in place for all children where learning has been affected by this pandemic. If you have concerns about your child’s learning we would encourage you to talk to your child’s school in the first instance.

Q11. Tuition over the holidays will not benefit my child due to their specific needs. How are the Local Authority guiding schools about this?

The Government announced in June that catch-up funding would be made available to schools.  Decisions about how this will be used in each setting are made by the school leaders and so we would encourage you to talk with your child's school if you have queries about this or questions about the plan to support your child.

Q12. What are the plans for services if there is a second wave?

The Government has asked every area to develop a local plan to manage a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases. Suffolk has developed a local outbreak plan which describes what would happen for different scales of outbreak, and you can read this outbreak plan here - page 29 contains information relating to schools and other education settings.

Q13: How will distancing and cleanliness be managed with school transport, and what are the rules around wearing PPE?

The Government issued some guidance on transport , received on 2 July 2020, which stated the following with regard to school transport: “Pupils on dedicated school services do not mix with the general public on those journeys and tend to be consistent. This means that the advice for passengers on public transport to adopt a social distance of 2 metres from people outside their household or support bubble, or a ‘one metre plus’ approach where this is not possible, will not apply from the autumn term on dedicated transport.”. This means that social distancing will not be required on any “dedicated” or “closed contract” home to school route. Cleaning of vehicles continues to be required in line with this government guidance.

Passengers on public transport aged 11+ are currently required to wear face coverings (unless exempt).  For drivers and passenger assistants on SEND journeys, face masks are required.  For all other students travelling on home-to-school journeys, it is currently for the parent/carer to consider whether a face covering should be worn. 

Any future changes or latest guidance will be updated on www.suffolkonboard.com.

Q14. Have the Local Authority considered seeking local volunteers to support schools/education services, as in the NHS volunteer scheme?

Not at present - we are awaiting detail of the government’s national scheme of support for children and young people in response to the pandemic. The LA does not have a direct role in the deployment of staff or volunteers in schools, but if school leaders raise this or any other issue with us we would always consider it and discuss it with them.

Q15. The disruption to social care due to lockdown really impacted our family. How will you ensure we get the ongoing support we need?

Throughout the Covid 19 restrictions we have continued to work closely with families, partner agencies and our service providers to ensure a continuity of support where possible. We recognise that some services have been affected and that some were subsequently suspended, this has been unavoidable in the wider context of a national pandemic. Children’s Social Care developed and implemented a C-19 risk assessment framework as of the 31st March 2020 to ensure that a robust system for checking in regularly with families has been in place, and colleagues have worked hard to be creative with service solutions, wherever we can.

We are also mindful and respectful of a number of families who made the decision to shield vulnerable family members by withdrawing from all support, many of whom who continue to shield. We have maintained contact with all families in receipt of support services through children’s social care and remain committed to working with them as C-19 restrictions ease further.

COVID-19: Information for Parents and Carers. Issue 2: 07/08/20

FAQ Bulletin 1: June 2020

COVID-19 (Coronavirus): Information for Parents and Carers

June 2020

Dear Parents and Carers,

We are pleased to publish this first edition of what will be a regular question and answer bulletin as we move through the next phase of the national response to COVID-19. This has been developed in response to a request from the Suffolk Parent Carer Network (SPCN) and we would like to thank them for providing us with the first set of questions and concerns that have been raised through the network. You can fill out a survey to tell us what support you need during this pandemic and we will continue to answer questions from SPCN in future editions. We also welcome direct questions from families via email at localoffer@suffolk.gov.uk or via our Local Offer Facebook Page.

All of us are facing challenges as a result of lockdown and we don’t underestimate the difficult balancing act that you will be managing as parents and carers, particularly in supporting your whole family at this time. We are doing our best to maintain all our services over this period and we are still completing new assessments and expecting annual reviews to continue virtually wherever possible.

Over the last few weeks we have been working closely with every school and setting that support pupils who have Education, Health and Care Plans to make sure each family is receiving regular contact from staff and that there is a plan in place with your child’s school or setting to meet their needs through the lockdown period and the coming months.  We have asked all education providers to complete an EHCP risk assessment for each child, and this should have involved a discussion with you as their parent/carer. Where a school or setting has raised a concern about their ability to put a plan in place that meets the needs of your child, we are following this up. 

If you have particular concerns about the offer that is being made to your child with an EHCP, please contact your school or setting to discuss this further in the first instance. However, if after this you are still worried, please contact our COVID helpline for parents on 01473 263985 to raise your concerns. While some services have had to suspend their offer, we are still doing our best to support you and your child.

Finally, I wanted to thank you all for the kind words and encouraging feedback that we have had from so many of you during this period.  Our staff are working long hours, often with their own challenging circumstances, and it has been very heartening that so many of you have taken the time to drop us a note of thanks or share a kind word.

With thanks and best wishes on behalf of the Suffolk SEND Partners,

Judith Mobbs

Assistant Director, Inclusion and Skills

Q1: Should I send my child back to school?

Since 23 March, most schools have remained open for the children of critical workers and for those children who were considered particularly vulnerable. Mainstream primary schools were asked to reopen to children in Years R/1/6 from 1 June, and to some year groups in secondary settings from 15 June. For special schools, year groups were not specified; rather children are being gradually invited to return as appropriate.

In all cases, parents will receive information from their child's school about the arrangements made. Every school is different; therefore their plans to re-open will be different. We recognise that there is understandably much anxiety about returning to school. Schools are working hard to ensure it is safe for children to return. Risk assessments are being carried out to determine how the school will re-open safely, and children’s welfare and safety is most important.

It is important for children to understand that school will look different during this time. If you or your child have any particular concerns, we encourage you to discuss these with your school, so that you feel confident making the decision that is right for your family. 

Q2: If I don't send my child back to school what will happen?

At the present time there will be no legal action taken against any person if they choose not to send their children to school. However, we would encourage all parents/carers to send their children to school when informed by the school that they can return safely.

Q3:  What provision will there be when my child goes back to school?

The provision a child receives when they go back to school will be dependent on the needs of the individual child. It will also be dependent on the school’s processes in place to re-open safely.

At the start of lockdown it was important there was a care offer for children of key workers and vulnerable children. The gradual re-opening of schools to some year groups from 1st June indicates the need now to ensure that as many children as possible return to school to receive an education. This means that schools will be aiming to offer learning in small groups, or ‘bubbles’, to the best of their ability. Children will remain in their ‘bubble’ with their adult(s), so learning is going to be different for a while and will focus on developing skills whilst also supporting children’s social and emotional well-being. Every school will have a risk assessment which states what they can provide whilst also keeping children safe. The risk assessment will look at the number of staff available to a group of children, the spaces available in school so that social distancing can be managed, and which elements of the school curriculum can be safely delivered. This will be different in each school and schools should be communicating their offer via their website and other communications with families.

Q4: What emotional support will be available for children when they go back?

Children and young people have experienced a lot of change during this pandemic and the unpredictable nature of the current situation can be very hard to cope with for many people. Emotional support is therefore really important and this is a focus for all services and for education settings currently in planning for children and young people’s return to education over the coming weeks and months. 

There are a wide range of resources available for children and young people, families and schools, as well as offers of support from our Psychology and Therapeutic and Specialist Education Services. These range from whole school approaches through to planning for individual children and young people who require additional support - for more information on how our specialist services work, click here

 

Q5: What will the transition arrangements be for children this year?

Where children are starting school or moving to a new school in September, transition will currently need to look different to how it usually does. There are lots of resources to support families and schools with transition arrangements on the page linked above, including information about supporting children and young people to manage their emotions and cope with change.

Schools and colleges are already communicating with families via email and post, and are also developing ways of supporting transition using ‘virtual’ strategies. There are many ways this can happen, such as sharing photographs of the new school, virtual tours, and meetings via telephone or ICT. 

Q6: What is happening about home-to-school transport?

Suffolk On Board, our passenger transport service, have done a great deal of work in ensuring that routes can continue to run safely under current Government guidelines. As more and more students return to school and as Government advice continues to evolve, there may be unavoidable changes to your child's usual travel arrangements.

Please visit the Transport FAQs page for the latest guidance.

Q7: Is my child eligible for a free laptop?

The Local Authority has been allocated some laptops and Wi-Fi dongles by the DfE for children who have a designated social worker. The allocation is enough to provide 1 in 4 eligible children with a laptop and less than 1 in 10 with a Wi-Fi dongle, and it will be for the Social Care teams to decide which children they are awarded to. Similarly, education settings have also been awarded an allocation of laptops for vulnerable children in Year 10 who do not have one. It will be for the settings to decide which children receive them.

These devices come with a cloud based filtering system to provide some safeguarding. The DfE have clarified that the devices remain the property of the organisation awarding them and have also indicated that the limited number of Wi-Fi data dongles will be for a  6 month contract of 3GB per month.

If you are not eligible for this, you may wish to look into making an application to the Family Fund, who provide grants to families on low incomes with disabilities or severe medical conditions to help with the cost of equipment including computers. 

As a result of COVID-19, all 16-19 education providers have been asked to continue to deliver their provision online where possible. There is a Government 16-19 Bursary Fund which can be used to provide necessary equipment to students who cannot afford it, and to help with other essential costs of participating in education.  For more details or to apply, please visit the please visit the gov.uk website and search for "16-19 bursary".

Q8: Are we eligible for vouchers for free meals during the pandemic?

All families who are currently eligible for free school meals should already be receiving a voucher or meal from their school. Please contact your school if you have not received this.

Families who are currently undergoing assessment for Universal Credit will be issued a pre-payment card which will be topped up weekly until the result of the assessment is known. If the result is that you are not eligible for Universal Credit, top-ups to the card will be stopped, but you will be given two weeks to spend any balance before it is deactivated. If your child is eligible for free school meals but does not currently have a school place, you will also be issued a pre-payment card until a place is allocated. Once an eligible child has been allocated a school place, the school will take over responsibility for meals.

The pre-payment cards can be spent anywhere that accepts Mastercard. All spending is monitored, and if anything other than food is purchased the card will be stopped and we will contact the parent and require them to repay the monies. Suffolk County Council will underwrite any monies spent on those who prove to be not eligible for free school meals after assessment so you will not have to repay it, and we are grateful to Cabinet for their support in this.

Q9: Is there any financial support available to help me care for my child at home?

The Family Fund provides grants to families on low incomes who have disabilities or severe medical conditions to help with the cost of equipment, goods or services - from washing machines and refrigerators to sensory and educational equipment that they might not otherwise be able to afford. The grants are typically worth £4-500 per family, but vary depending on need. You can find out more at 

You may also be able to claim Carers' Allowance if you provide care remotely during the coronavirus outbreak. This includes giving emotional support over the phone or online visit - to find out how to apply for Carers' Allowance, click here.

For information about financial support for short breaks, please read below.

Q10: What other support is available if we are struggling to cope at home?

Short breaks are part of an existing continuum of services which support children with SEND and their families. Under normal circumstances, they can include day, evening, overnight and weekend activities, and can take place in the child’s own home, the home of an approved carer, or in a residential or community setting.

However, in the early stages of lockdown, most of the providers we normally use for short breaks had to close. As time has gone on, we have worked to develop overnight breaks for those families identified as being most in need, and these families have continued to be offered overnight support via Achieving Aspirations, one of our experienced Short Break Providers. We continue to work with our other providers to gradually reintroduce services, and are asking them to be flexible in the way they offer these to be able to continue to meet the needs of families under current guidelines, but we recognise they will not be able to offer full capacity for some time yet.

In Suffolk, personal budgets for short breaks for children aged 18 and under are issued through the Council's short breaks service, Activities Unlimited. Access to the service is via online self-assessment, which can be completed on the AU website. Qualifying families can use their budgets in a variety of ways to meet their short break needs, and many families are using their budgets to ease current pressure by purchasing items such as garden toys or crafts that can be done at home both with their child with SEND and with the whole family. You can contact Activities Unlimited on 01473 260026 or by emailing info@activities-unlimited.co.uk.

Personal budgets for those over 18 are issued by the Adult Care Service (ACS). If your adult child with SEND is aged 18 – 25, it is likely that they will already have been assessed by ACS under the remit of the Care Act (2014) and may already have a personal budget that can be used for care. If they have not, or if you require a reassessment or additional support, please contact ACS on 0808 800 4005 or by emailing customer.first@suffolk.gov.uk.

COVID-19: Information for Parents and Carers. Issue 1: 19/06/20