Inclusion Now 57

Lockdown, Post Lockdown Covid-19, Disabled Young People and Schools

The impact of the lockdown and Covid-19 continues to dramatically impact on UK Society and is enlarging existing social inequalities, especially for Disabled adults and families with Disabled children.

The impact of the lockdown and Covid-19 continues to dramatically impact on UK Society and is enlarging existing social inequalities, especially for Disabled adults and families with Disabled children. Death rates show the ultimate inequality for Disabled adults who the Office of National Statistics identify were 59% of all Covid-19 related deaths from March to July. This will be significantly underestimated as it is based on those who identified as disabled in 2011 census, 16% of the population. The figure is now 21% of population and so is likely to be 66%. When adjusted for other factors, Disabled Women were 2.5 times and Disabled Men 2 times more likely to die. The factors that led to this are well known.

The misapplication of ‘Do Not Resuscitate notices’, the lack of social care available for those who live independently, the returning of infected residents to care homes where their fellow residents had no escape from infection, the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and testing, the lack of infrastructure to allow food and medicine to be delivered to those forced to shield at the start of lockdown, all show the neglect of Disabled people by those with the power and authority to protect us.

Behind this neglect is the notion of identifying those at more risk as ‘vulnerable’, rather than identifying the risk factors which are barriers to our lives and providing effective risk reduction. The idea of assuming some inevitability is based on a eugenicist idea of survival of the fittest.

The Family Fund carried out and published two surveys on the impact of Covid-19 and lockdown on low income families with Disabled and seriously ill children . The first survey was undertaken between 27 March and 3 April 2020. The second was between 30 April and 4 May 2020. The sample for the first consisted of 1,986 families, raising 2,700 Disabled or seriously ill children. The second survey consisted of 2,531, families raising 3,279 Disabled or seriously ill children.

Half of families had lost income as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak and more than three quarters are experiencing increased household costs. Nearly three quarters of families now have no savings to fall back on. Accessing essentials such as food and toiletries is improving, but many families are still going without. The availability of both informal and formal support for Disabled or seriously ill children has hugely reduced, with limited signs of improvements since the lockdown began. The mental health and wellbeing of the majority of Disabled or seriously ill children, as well as parent carers, was being negatively impacted, and showing signs of deteriorating. The biggest concerns for families were around educating and entertaining their Disabled or seriously ill children at home and their children’s health and wellbeing. The priority items they required were things to assist in educating and entertaining their children, as well as help meeting the cost of household essentials over the coming months. The Government gave the Fund an additional grant of £10m to provide play equipment and computers to families .

When looking at the formal support families were receiving prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, but are no longer receiving, the main types they talked about losing focused on educational psychologists [78%], occupational therapy [78%], respite [78%], speech and language therapy [77%], physiotherapy [76%], audiology / ophthalmology [76%].
Government advice on the re-opening of schools for Disabled children is well explained by Independent Provider of Special Education Advice (IPSEA).

The Government reissued its guidance for parents and carers and also updated their main guidance for the full re-opening of schools in September. It’s important to note that this is not statutory – but although there’s no duty to have regard to it, we expect all schools, colleges and other places of education will have used this to plan re-opening and how education will be delivered in the Autumn 2020 term. IPSEA give a very useful guide from the point of view of children and young people with SEND to this Government Guidance.

The Government dogged insistence on all students returning to education from September without robust protection measures has coincided with rising infection and death rates, all be it much lower than April.

The negative impact on children’s and Young people’s mental health, pressure on families, concern about loss of education and the need to get the economy going were all quoted as reasons for the necessary opening of education. The inequity in access to the internet. These are all valid reasons especially for Disabled Young people, as surveys have shown it is extremely difficult to provide at home the differentiated teaching and support required. But only if it is safe and increasingly it does not appear safe.

The lack of test and trace (only 10 tests per school), introducing a ‘bubble system’, usually 30 in primary or whole year group in secondary (120 to 300), inconsistent advice on wearing masks, the impossibility of social distancing and the extreme difficulty of meeting the needs of a range of Disabled children has led to increasing numbers of children being quarantined .The failure to involve Local Authority Environmental Health officers, who know their areas and insisting on Public Health England has made matters worse.

The failure to expand testing in NHS and Universities with the Government relying on the private sector such as Deloitte has led to the shortage of testing capacity. The Observer (03.10.20) reported how only 81% of children with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Education, Health, Care (EHC) plans were attending schools, due to rigid and unenforceable safety guidelines compared with over 88% of all children.

The National Education Union opened a new webmap where the level of infection in the surrounding community could be seen for every school. This shows increasing R rates in more than 40 Local Authorities with rates around some schools rising dramatically.

On 3rd October the National Education Union (NEU), representing nearly 500,000 teachers and education staff, held a Special Conference to develop strong policy to protect staff, pupils and communities while developing safe measures for keeping education going in Covid-19. The policies called on Government to develop contingency plans for wider school closure and measures to allow schools to stay open, recruit more staff to teach smaller groups, to invest in additional school buildings, much wider testing and weekly testing of school staff, ensure all children have access to computers and the internet and to recognise and rectify the inadequacies of current guidance for SEND children.

A separate adopted motion on building a fairer education system after Covid-19 recognised the crisis had exposed the weakness in the current systems of assessment and school accountability, had hit hardest children from under resourced families, Black and Asian people and those with SEND. This was shown most clearly in the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) algorithm to adjust teacher awarded A-Level, GCSE and BTEC grades. This had built in adjustments for private schools with smaller classes and against those from schools that had previously not performed well. It exposed widely that however well students do a 30% failure rate is built in. Due to action from students and legal threats, the Centre Assessed Grades were accepted. The Government wants to go back to the old system. The NEU called for the scrapping of SATS and Testing in primary due to the severe mental distressed to pupils, a mixed model of teacher assessment and moderated tests in GCSE and A level in 2021 and the setting up of a high level commission for a fairer assessment system. The motion called for the immediate scrapping of the Covid-19 Act (renewed by 325: 25 MPs on 1st October) that has removed the statutory power of EHC plans and replaced it with LAs using their best endeavours to meet the needs of Disabled children and Young people with EHC plans.

By Richard Rieser, World of Inclusion