Flagship SENCO report reveals the impact of Covid-19 on pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

New research from Bath Spa University, in collaboration with nasen, has revealed the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), and highlights concerns around the provision of specialist support for children and young people and the impact on Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCOs).

The National SENCO Workforce Survey 2020, which this year captured the experiences of SENCOs in response to the pandemic and the first national lockdown, revealed a key issue with universal inclusive provision and differentiation of SEN support as teaching moved online for the majority of pupils, with almost three-quarters (73%) of SENCOs stating their school experienced challenges with providing virtual support for children with SEN, and 8 in 10 finding it difficult to provide differentiated learning online.

The results also reported a sharp increase in SENCOs workload as schools responded and adapted to the unprecedented situation, which saw them faced with more management tasks and paperwork, including teaching, safeguarding, completing risk assessments and quickly responding to changing national guidance – all impacting a role that was already severely lacking in time pre-pandemic.

Of those surveyed, nearly three-quarters of SENCOs (72%) felt that their schools had experienced challenges in providing support for children and young people with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) during the lockdown, with over half (56.7%) finding the management of risk assessments a key challenge.

Only 1 in 10 were happy with the support they received during the pandemic, reporting that expectations and guidance changed frequently. Furthermore, nearly two-thirds (64.4%) would have welcomed more support and guidance from central government – findings that have led to recommendations around the provision of national exemplars and guidance in responding to unprecedented events in the future.

Dr Helen Curran, Senior Lecturer in Education: SEN at Bath Spa University, said: “The global pandemic has exposed the existing crisis in SEND, and amplified challenges that SENCOs already faced, such as a lack of time to execute the role.

“We know that schools have worked tirelessly to support young people during the pandemic, facing daily challenges, difficult decisions and changing national guidance. As we get to grips with a third lockdown and return to remote learning, there is a real risk that children with SEND will continue to be disproportionally impacted by the pandemic, unless teachers, SENCOs and pupils are given additional support in areas like providing appropriate and differentiated virtual learning.”

Although the research highlighted a number of challenges as a result of the pandemic, there were some positive experiences of online learning reported for some children with SEND, including a reduction in social communication and interaction anxieties.

Additionally, the majority of SENCOs (84.2%) reported an increased focus on communication with parents and families, and most SENCOs (71%) in academies were satisfied with the support from their Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs.)

Professor Adam Boddison, Chief Executive at nasen commented: “The SENCO Workforce Survey not only shines a spotlight on the strengths and challenges that impact SENCOs in their work, it also exposes some of the hidden challenges that continue to perpetuate inequalities impacting children and young people with SEND and their families.

“The pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on children and young people’s social, emotional and mental health needs, exacerbating social interaction challenges. It is vital that we support them and the mental wellbeing of our education workforce. We would like to see routine wellbeing arrangements put in place following this extended period of national challenge, including priority support for SENCOs.

“Moving forward, it is important that we work collaboratively and share good practice across mainstream, special schools and specialist settings to help all children and young people, particularly those with SEND, to learn and thrive regardless of their background or need.”

The full report, National SENCO Workforce Survey 2020: Supporting children and young people with special educational needs and their families during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, can be viewed here: https://www.bathspa.ac.uk/projects/senco-workload/

As part of its commitment to ensuring expertise in SEND is available to every school and setting, nasen will be offering membership for free from January 25th.

To find out more information about nasen and their upcoming free membership, visit: www.nasen.org.uk/membership.

Additional COVID-19 information and resources can also be found at www.nasen.org.uk/covid-19.

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