Coronavirus Act 2020
Find out about the UK Government’s emergency legislation in this special briefing including what the Coronavirus Act 2020 is, what it means for Disabled learners, and what you can do – a call to action.
This special Coronavirus Act briefing is to update our members on what ALLFIE has been doing around this piece of legislation which gives the Government specific powers to deal with the Coronavirus outbreak that includes the:
- Closure of schools
- Proposals to suspend the Local Authority’s duties towards disabled children with education, health and care plans
- Proposals to suspend the Local Authorities duties in arranging care provision for disabled adults
- Call to Action! ALLFIE Covid19 survey
Please complete this quick survey to help ALLFIE respond to Government proposals
Closure of schools
The Government have announced the closure of state schools for the overwhelming majority of children. However, schools will remain open for children of key workers and ‘vulnerable children’ including pupils with education, health and care plans (EHCPs). Although mainstream schools will be closed special schools are expected to follow Government Covid-19 advice and remain open.
Has the Government taken into account the fact that many of the pupils attending special schools will have underlying health conditions including compromised immune systems?
This conflicts with the Government’s own professional advice to the general population to stay at home if one is at higher risk of developing infections and virus.
We expect that many parents will not want their disabled children to be placed at higher risk of developing Covid-19 and will therefore have to consider whether to withdraw their child from school. However, many of these families will not have the structured support in place available in many special schools and may have to accept the extra risk of allowing their child to attend school, which is unacceptable.
If this Government wants to ensure that all children minimise the risk of developing Covid-19 they need to provide the funding and put in place the infrastructure needed to facilitate disabled children to continue to receive the support and routine they require in their own homes and within mainstream educational settings.
Closing schools and colleges will obviously have an impact on pupils’ and students ability to sit their examinations and complete course work. The Government has announced that exams will be cancelled this summer to fight spread of coronavirus.
The exam regulator, Ofqual, and exam boards will work with teachers to provide grades to students’ whose exams have been cancelled this summer as a result of the coronavirus out-break. There will also be an option to sit an exam early in the next academic year for students who wish to.
If you want to know more about the decision making processes involved in awarding pupil or student’s grades follow: www.gov.uk/government/news/further-details-on-exams-and-grades-announced
University representatives have confirmed that they expect universities to be flexible and do all they can to support students and ensure they can progress to higher education.
Government’s Proposals in the Coronavirus legislation
On March 19th, the Government published the contents of the Coronavirus Bill, covering a whole range of powers including the following:
- The Secretary of State for Education will have powers to amend the Children and Families Act 2014 so there is no longer a requirement to name a school in the child’s Education & Health Care Plan (EHCP).
- The Secretary of State will have powers to amend the Children and Families Act so that a local authority only have to use reasonable endeavour in discharging its duty in securing SEND provision for disabled pupils. This will mean that local authorities will not have an absolute duty to arrange SEND provision for disabled pupils.
- The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will have the powers to amend Sections 18 and 20 of the Care Act so local authorities will no longer be required to meet the eligible needs of disabled adults and carers.
- The Secretary of State will have the powers to close state-funded schools.
Steve Broach Public Law Barrister on the Coronavirus Bill’s implications for disabled children
If you are interested in knowing what else is in the Coronavirus legislation follow the Government’s weblink
ALLFIE’s initial response
ALLFIE is very concerned that disabled people’s rights to be supported within mainstream education will be suspended for up to two years under the Coronavirus Bill. The Government wants to suspend various rights disabled people have under current legislation.
We are very concerned that there is a real possibility that:
- Disabled children with EHCP support could have that support withdrawn, reduced, removed or not replaced if current staff is needed elsewhere by NHSE or even special schools;
- Disabled children with EHCP could be transferred into special schools so that SEND provision can be pooled as fewer schools are open. Local authorities and schools will not have the funding to pay for additional staff if existing staff are in self-isolation or ill.
- Disabled children with EHCP could be left without a school placement, particularly a mainstream school placement.
- Disabled young people may not get the education, health and care support they require to flourish in mainstream education. The threshold will be lowered so that disabled people will only get support to meet the basic needs of being dressed, fed and showered.
- If these changes to the Care Act go through disabled children and people in education may not get the support they require because education is unlikely to be considered a basic need to aid survival.
It is totally unacceptable that the rights of disabled people, the only group of people with protected characteristic rights under the Equality Act, will be suspended. For many disabled pupils and students the education, health and care provision required is necessary to support both their emotional and physical wellbeing. Many of the health and social care practitioners are undertaking tasks that will help to maintain stable health, including reducing the risk of developing infections and viruses.
The education and care provisions in the Coronavirus Bill are an attack on disabled people’s human rights to education, health and care.
ALLFIE’s Coronavirus Bill briefing
The Coronavirus Bill had a swift passage through both the House of Commons and House of Lords. MPs and Peers had just three days 23rd-25th March to debate and amend the bill before it became law.
The published Coronavirus Bill and Parliamentary debates: services.parliament.uk/Bills/2019-21/coronavirus.html
See ALLIFE’s briefing: www.allfie.org.uk/news/briefing/coronavirus-bill-debate-march/
The Coronavirus Act enacted for a maximum of two years must be reviewed on a six monthly basis by parliament is the only key amendment accepted to the law by Government.
On 27th March the Government issued Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on vulnerable children and young people.
This Government’s guidance sets out what will local authorities are expected to provide for children with EHC plans.
“Local authorities will need to work closely with educational settings – and in particular, special schools and specialist colleges, and other specialist provision – to ensure sufficient provision is available across the local area. Local authorities and educational settings may need to redeploy staff (whether teachers, support staff or other critical workers) to ensure that specialist settings have sufficient workforce to operate safely; and may need to do this across the usual boundaries of maintained, academy, college or other status to ensure the right staff are in the right settings. Any changes made to a child or young person’s provision in their EHC plan would only remain in place temporarily. The full range of provision would be reinstated once the temporary notice expires.”
Paragraph 27 What about those with EHC plans who attend mainstream schools and colleges?
“Many children and young people with EHC plans can safely remain at home. If a risk assessment shows that the needs of an individual with an EHC plan cannot be met at home, it is likely they will continue at their usual school or college, but there may be a need to attend a different setting, for instance due to insufficient staffing ratios which cannot be remedied by drawing on additional appropriately skilled staff.”
- What if there are not enough staff in educational settings due to COVID-19?
“Local authorities will need to work closely with educational settings – and in particular special schools and other specialist provision – to ensure sufficient provision is available across the local area. Local authorities and educational settings may need to redeploy staff (whether teachers, support staff or other critical workers) to ensure specialist schools and specialist colleges have sufficient workforce to operate safely, and may need to do this across the usual boundaries of maintained, academy, college or other status to ensure the right staff are in the right settings.”
Proposals to suspend the Local Authorities duties in arranging care provision for disabled adults
Disabled students and pupils requiring adult care services can find their care packages being reduced because local authorities will no longer be required to meet all eligible needs which includes support whilst participating in education and training.
For more information follow Inclusion London’s web-link : www.inclusionlondon.org.uk/campaigns-and-policy/comment-and-media/coronavirus-update/
The Government’s Coronavirus Act: ALLFIE’s Statement
The Coronavirus Act has been passed in three days flat with limited scrutiny of its provisions by Parliament.
The Act gives Government an extraordinary range of powers to fight this pandemic. These powers deprive disabled people of their rights to community care; special education needs provision and access to justice. Already, days after school closures, we are hearing about disabled children without the education, health and care support they require while in self-isolation with their families. Many of these families need reassurance and support to help them understand what is happening and to create a structured programme of activities. What is NOT needed right now is for disabled pupils and students to lose their support in favour of the priority groups the Government has identified as more in need. The Government’s guidance expects flexibility including disabled mainstream school pupils with ECH and their staff to be deployed into other education provision such as special schools and specialist colleges in order to maintain safe staff-pupil ratios within segregated education provision.
It does not need to happen like this. The Government could have used the economic package to not just bolster the NHS but also the education and social care sector by providing additional funding to ensure that all disabled people are given the support required to promote both their emotional and physical wellbeing during these very challenging times. This is no longer about austerity or a lack of money: the Government could have chosen to use the newly created money to implement a strong education, health and social care system that is needed to ensure that we all feel safe, secure and well. But instead the stark reality will be the only way that disabled people will get state-funded assistance is in a general or psychiatric hospital or if they accept provision in other forms of segregated or institutionalised settings. ALLFIE believes this is ideologically driven.
Call to action
- Please complete this quick 5-10 minute survey to help ALLFIE respond to Government proposals including the Education Select Committee’s Inquiry: ALLFIE Covid19 survey