What has been the impact of COVID-19 on children with SEND? What do we know so far?

SEND, Children, COVID-19

Over the last year there has been a number of reports highlighting the impact that the pandemic and school closures have had on children and young people with SEND. Many of these have been based on small sample surveys covering a short span of time. We will not know the full impact until much larger surveys are carried out looking at a much longer period of time once we are back to the “new normal”. Although the majority of children returned to school on 8th March, we know that there are still some pupils who have not returned either due to their vulnerability or anxiety or because bubbles have collapsed due to positive tests and self-isolation.

It is hoped that by the start of the summer term 2021 our schools will be up to full capacity once again but we may still see pupils and staff having to self- isolate if infection rates begin to rise again. We still have some challenges ahead.

In this blog I am going to share with you some of the findings form the key reports published over the last year so you can use the information to think about your own setting and the impact the pandemic has had on your SEND children and young people.

Do these reports reflect the impact of the pandemic on pupils in your setting?

Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) – Speech and language therapy during and beyond COVID-19: building back better with people who have communication and swallowing needs. – March 2021

Between November 2020 and February 2021, the RCSLT conducted two surveys of people’s experiences of accessing speech and language therapy during the first UK-wide lockdown (March–June 2020). In the 18 and over survey, 77 people responded from across the UK with the majority from England.

The key findings are:

  • After lockdown started in March 2020, there was more than a 50% reduction in access to speech and language therapy.
  • During lockdown, only 16% of the respondents received the same amount of SaLT as before lockdown
  • From the end of lockdown in June 2020, 76% of the respondents were not receiving any in-person speech and language therapy.

In the 0 – 18 survey there was a total of 425 responses, 83% were from family members or carers of children and young people with speech, language and communication difficulties.

  • 88% of the respondents were in direct receipt of or had received SaLT before March 2020
  • Prior to lockdown all respondents received their SaLT in person at schools, colleges, homes or other locations.
  • 81% received less SaLT during lockdown with 62% not receiving any.
  • When SaLt had been delivered it was via a mixed delivery.
  • Overall, lockdown had a negative impact on children’s speech, language and communication


Ask Research, Nuffield Foundation & NFER – Special education during lockdown: providers and parents experiences – Research summary – February 2021

This research was carried out from March to August 2020. In involved a survey of 201 senior leaders of special schools and colleges in England, in-depth interviews with 40 providers and 40 parents or carers and a survey of 515 parent carers whose children attended special schools and colleges.

The report details the experiences of participants during the first lockdown in 2020.

Key findings:

In-school provision

  • During the first national lockdown, special school and college leaders were only able to offer places to around a third of pupils due to the many challenges they faced, including reduced staffing levels and unclear guidance.
  • The nature of the support special schools and colleges needed to provide was in conflict with safety guidance and available space. Almost all (98%) providers surveyed said they had pupils who would find it hard to keep to social distancing and safe practice. Three quarters of providers had pupils who require personal care which involves close contact with others.
  • Places that were offered in school were often part-time and services crucial to helping pupils into school, such as home-school transport, were badly disrupted.

Support available from health, care and social services

  • Health and social care services, which many of these children and families depend on, were severely reduced or stopped altogether during the first national lockdown, with education staff left to try and ‘plug the gaps’ where they could.
  • 83% of pupils at home, and 65% of pupils attending school or college, got either no or only a small amount of healthcare support through lockdown.
  • 77% of pupils at home and 57% of pupils attending school or college got either no or only a small amount of social care and support (including respite care and home help) through lockdown.

Support provided at home

  • For those pupils unable to attend their special school or college in person, the report finds that remote learning and support was extremely difficult to provide.
  • Approximately one in every three of these families had limited IT access, and the additional needs of pupils with SEND reportedly hindered their ability to engage with online learning.
  • Many pupils needed all of their home learning materials individually produced to meet their specific needs, and parents needed guidance and equipment to help their child learn at home. This meant supporting home schooling for these pupils was incredibly resource intensive.

Experiences of families and their children

  • Many families struggled to support their children at home full time. They reported increased stress, anxiety and mental health issues, affecting their ability to manage their child with special needs and relationships within the family.
  • They reported that the first national lockdown led to a loss of skills and abilities (such as communication and mobility) in their children and increased behavioural and mental health issues, likely to impact on their future life chances.
  • School and college leaders had concerns about the longer-term effects of restricted support for pupils and families and what this would mean for how special education could be delivered in the future.


Special Needs Jungle – Autumn 2020 – Covid-19 and SEND Education Survey – February 2021

This survey was launched in autumn 2020 to find out whether children and young people with SEND had returned to school in September 2020 and had all their provision been back in place in the first half of the autumn term. The survey report was based on 1107 respondents from 138 of the 151 local authorities in England. The main findings were:

  • Nearly two-thirds of parents and carers who have children with EHCPs reported that their child’s statutory provision had not been fully restored in the first half of the autumn term
  • The shortfall was greatest in therapies normally delivered by NHS staff. Direct speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and hydrotherapy were all areas where parents felt no Education, Health and Care Plan provision had been restored.
  • Only 8% of parents of children on SEND Support confirmed that all of the provision their child had prior to lockdown was back in place. Almost three-quarters of these parents reported that some or all of their SEND support had been withdrawn (therapies and teaching assistant support).
  • 80% of parents and carers with SEND reported that their child was back in school full-time in September. The majority of those not in school were extremely medically vulnerable or had medical needs whilst others were self-isolating or were too anxious to attend school.
  • Parents overwhelmingly identified good communication as the most important thing they received from their school or would have liked to have received, they also would have liked to have seen better planning for the provision in an EHCP being in place before the beginning of the autumn term.

It will be interesting to see if these findings are the same following the latest lockdown.


Pears Foundation and Disabled Children’s Partnership (DCP) – The Longest Lockdown – February 2021 – 1st Survey

The DCP has established a Parent Survey Panel to carry out a series of surveys during 2021 to track the experiences of disabled children and their families. 635 families responded to this first survey in January 2021.

Key Findings:

  • 75% of families reported delays in routine health appointments for their disabled child with over half stating that this had had a negative impact on their child’s condition.
  • 70% of children could not access therapies such as Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy, Play Therapy, Speech and Language Therapy or Music Therapy.
  • 72% of families reported their EHCP or SEND Support provision had been negatively affected during the pandemic.

The DCP is calling for an ambitious and funded COVID-19 recovery and catch-up plan for disabled children covering not just education but also health and wellbeing.


National Autistic Society – Left Stranded: The impact of coronavirus on autistic people and their families in the UK – September 2020

An online survey for autistic people and their families across the UK was carried out between June and July 2020. A total of 4,232 responses were received.

Executive Summary:

  • Autistic people were seven times more likely to be chronically lonely
  • Autistic people are six times more likely to have low life satisfaction
  • Nine out of ten autistic people worried about their mental health during lockdown
  • One in five family members had to reduce work due to caring responsibilities
  • Seven out of ten parents said their child had difficulty understanding or completing school work and around half said their child ‘s academic progress suffered.


ASK Research, Nuffield Foundation and NFER – Special education during lockdown: Returning to schools and colleges in September – September 2020

This study, undertaken by ASK Research with support from NFER, and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, involved 40 in-depth interviews with and surveys of special schools and colleges in England who provide specialist places for children and young people with Education, Health and Care Plans and over 510 parents whose children attend special schools.

Key findings:

  • 84% of special school and college leaders thought some of their pupils would not return to school in September.
  • 64% thought this was because parents do not think it would be safe.
  • 98% of special school and college leaders said they have pupils who they thought would find adhering to safe practice and social distancing from adults, difficult.

Leaders anticipated that they would have to make significant changes in special educational provision from September 2020. The things affecting these changes were:

  • A perceived lack of clarity in DfE guidance
  • Insufficient staff capacity
  • Limited space
  • Limited funding
  • How other agencies and partners adapt including health and care services, transport services, local providers (charities) local authorities
  • Pupils being likely to have additional social, emotional and mental health needs post-pandemic


A great deal can be learnt from the surveys I have discussed here especially if we look at the many recommendations that are made. Schools need to consider these to ensure that all pupils with SEND have not only returned to full-time education but they are also accessing all of the additional and or different provision that is required to support their individual needs.

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