Improving the education system after COVID-19, House of Commons, 23 March 2021

Councils have been supporting all schools throughout the pandemic, including working to support vulnerable pupils and interpreting guidance to help ensure learning has continued as safely and effectively as possible .


Key messages

  • Councils have been instrumental in supporting all schools throughout the pandemic, including working to support vulnerable pupils and interpreting guidance to help ensure learning has continued as safely and effectively as possible for all children and young people.
  • COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted the most disadvantaged children. A recent report from the National Audit Office (NAO) noted that children from different backgrounds had contrasting experiences of remote learning and as most vulnerable children did not attend school between late March 2020 and end of the summer term in 2020, this could have resulted in increased levels of hidden harm.
  • As education recovery plans are developed by the Department for Education (DfE), it is vital that they recognise the role that councils can play as local convenors and education system leaders in ensuring that a series of national education recovery objectives can be delivered to meet the needs of local communities.
  • While recovery support should be made available to all children and young people, it is vital that vulnerable children, who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, are the focus of this programme of work.
  • We are concerned that there will be an increase in requests for support from children and young people with Education, Health and Care Plans where the support set out in their plan has not been provided, particularly due to pressures on the health service. We are keen to work with the Department for Education (DfE), Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England to ensure that the support needs of children with SEND can be met as soon as possible.
  • We anticipate a need for additional support for children, young people and their families over the coming months and possibly years as a result of or exacerbated by COVID-19. To ensure families can get the support they need, we are calling for the £1.7 billion lost from the Early Intervention Grant since 2010 to be restored and the reinstatement of the £700 million removed from the public health grant since 2015.
  • It is crucial that mental health support is on an equitable footing as education when we look at recovery.  Children will not engage in school if they have poor mental health, thus widening the learning gap further. Any proposals set out for helping pupils to catch up on lost learning need to include the emotional and social needs of young people, as well as covering academic subjects.
  • It is essential that the Government learns from what’s happened over the last 12 months, including looking into the shortage of academic mentors in disadvantaged areas and building on resources developed to tackle societal inequalities and better support children and young people’s recovery from the pandemic.

 

Schools

On 24 February 2021, DfE announced further details of the education recovery support package. In our view, it must be a long-term endeavour and go beyond academic achievement so as to include measures to support children and young people’s socialisation, communication and mental health and well-being. While recovery support should be made available to all children and young people, it is vital that vulnerable children, who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, are the focus of this programme of work.

Feedback from member councils means that we propose DfE will also need to undertake extensive engagement and communications work to ensure schools, councils, parents/carers and young people have a clear picture of how these arrangements will work in practice.

Furthermore, extending the school term into the summer will clearly have resource implications for both schools and councils, for example, an extension to home-to-school transport. These will need to be funded by the Department. We are also concerned that teachers have been working incredibly hard for the last twelve months and must be given time off over the summer to rest and recover.

SEND

We are concerned that as schools re-open and lockdown measures ease there will be an increase in requests for support from children and young people with Education, Health and Care Plans where the support set out in their plan has not been provided, particularly due to pressures on the health service. We are keen to work with the DfE, Department for Health and Social Care and NHS England to ensure that the support needs of children with SEND can be met as soon as possible. The on-going review of the SEND system should also consider learning from the pandemic, for example, that some children and young people with SEND benefited from being away from the classroom and being taught at home.

Vulnerable children

We anticipate a need for additional support for children, young people and their families over the coming months and possibly years as a result of pressures introduced or exacerbated by the pandemic. This includes issues around financial hardship, mental health and wellbeing issues, domestic abuse and drug and alcohol misuse. Much of this will not be at the higher end of need – rather, it will require short term interventions to support people through a difficult period.

However, many early interventions have been scaled back or withdrawn altogether as funding challenges and increasing need for urgent child protection services have diverted funding towards more intensive services. To ensure families can get the support they need, when they need it, and to prevent needs from escalating, we are calling for the £1.7 billion lost from the Early Intervention Grant since 2010 to be restored, and the reinstatement of the £700 million removed from the public health grant since 2015.

Schools are one of the main referrers into children’s social care, thanks to the unique relationships of teachers and support staff with their pupils and the ability to spot if something isn’t right. These relationships and opportunities for disclosures will be challenged if school staff continue to have additional expectations placed upon them in terms of infection control and education catch up.

The See, Hear, Respond has provided significant levels of support for children and families where they need help to cope with the challenges of the pandemic but fall below social care thresholds. This programme will end in March, and we have concerns about support for some of the children and young people in the programme when this happens. In particular, Barnardo’s reports that their delivery partners have supported significant numbers of children to return to school where this has been a challenge, and worked with thousands of teenagers through their outreach youth work. In the absence of the programme from April 2021, we are keen to work with the DfE to identify alternative funding that will enable councils to commission early help support to meet ongoing need.

Mental health

It is crucial that mental health support is on an equitable footing as education when we look at recovery – children will not engage in school if they have poor mental health, thus widening the learning gap further.  Any proposals set out for helping pupils to catch up on lost learning need to include the emotional and social needs of young people, as well as covering academic subjects.

Councils are crucial to providing a strategic oversight role in co-ordinating different partners (mental health specialists but also youth groups and the voluntary sector) to support schools, children and young people, as well as using their expertise to facilitate conversations locally and bringing schools nurses, educational psychologists and others together.

We would encourage Government to consider extending the Wellbeing for Education Return funding, as it is currently due to end in March 2021. We know this has been well received and would welcome consideration on how this could be bolstered. For example, embedding pastoral support for children in schools. We recognise that currently the majority of funding comes through the NHS so would wish to see a national expectation that each Integrated Care System prioritises children and young people’s emotional health and well-being.