Ensuring the safe return to school of pupils with EHCPs: FAQs

Natalie Packer summarises the process in terms of risk assessment for pupils with EHCPs and provides example templates to download

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Natalie Packer is an independent education consultant, specialising in school improvement, SEN and outstanding teaching. She delivers a wide range of professional development packages for primary and secondary schools and supports initial teacher...

The DfE has published guidance on supporting children and young people with SEND as schools and colleges prepare for wider opening. What does this mean for schools?

What are the DfE expectations around pupils with SEND returning?

From the week commencing 1 June, at the earliest, the DfE is asking primary schools to welcome back children in nursery, reception, Year 1 and Year 6. From the week commencing 15 June, at the earliest, they also expect secondary schools, sixth form and further education colleges to offer some face-to-face support to Year 10 and Year 12 students who are due to take key exams next year.

Special schools and hospital schools are expected to work towards a phased return of more children and young people, without a focus on specific year groups and informed by risk assessments.

Schools or local authorities are able to use their discretion to carry out a risk assessment if they feel a pupil at SEN support is particularly vulnerable

In addition to these pupils in specific year groups, mainstream schools will also continue the provision they are already offering to vulnerable children and critical worker children. This includes pupils who have an education, health and care plan (EHCP), where a risk assessment has deemed this is the most suitable course of action. 

For those children and young people with SEND who do not have an EHC plan (i.e. those receiving SEN support), there is no expectation that they will return to school (unless they are deemed to be vulnerable in other ways or they are the child of a critical worker).

However, schools or local authorities are able to use their discretion to carry out a risk assessment if they feel a pupil at SEN support is particularly vulnerable as a consequence of their special needs. Where a risk assessment is completed and it is deemed the most appropriate approach, the child can be offered a place back in school.

What do school leaders need to do to prepare?

In order to prepare effectively, school leaders should consider the following.

  1. Carrying out a whole school risk assessment for ensuring the school is generally ready for the return of pupils with EHCPs.
  2. Updating individual risk assessments to inform decisions about whether a child with SEND should access school or remain at home.

Further information on how to carry out each of these actions is outlined below.

What’s the legal situation regarding delivering EHCP provision?

On 1 May, under the Coronavirus Act 2020, the government announced temporary amendments relating to legal duties and timescales for EHCPs. The first change was the introduction of the ‘reasonable endeavours’ duty for local authorities. This means that, although EHCPs remain in force, local authorities must consider for each child and young person with an EHCP what they can reasonably provide in the circumstances, during the notice period. In deciding what provision must be secured or arranged, the local authority should consider:

  • the specific local circumstances e.g. workforce capacity in the school
  • the needs of and specific circumstances affecting the child or young person
  • the views of the child or young person and their family.

In reality, this will involve schools working alongside parents and the local authority to look at creative ways to deliver the provision, taking into consideration the practicalities of the current situation. For some pupils this means the provision in their plan will be able to be delivered, for others provision may need to be different. Decisions about provision should be made through the risk assessment process.

There is still a requirement for local authorities to carry out annual reviews, although the timescales for the reviews can be relaxed

The second change was a temporary amendment of the regulations that specify legal timescales around processes relating to EHC needs assessments, plans and annual reviews. This means that LAs must still carry out EHC needs assessments and continue to issue plans but that these can be done as soon as is ‘reasonably practicable’.

It also means there is still a requirement for local authorities to carry out annual reviews, although the timescales for the reviews can be relaxed. Where appropriate annual reviews can still take place via phone call or other electronic means.

Local authorities should have issued guidance to schools to outline how they are implementing the changes.

How should school leaders carry out a whole school risk assessment?

Leaders will need to feel confident that, following the 1 June, they are well prepared for meeting the needs of pupils with EHCPs safely and effectively. The following questions can be considered.

  1. Do leaders have an appropriate level of knowledge about the experiences of pupils with EHCPs over the last few months?
  2. How will leaders continue to ensure pupils with EHCPs are safe and accounted for (at school or at home)?
  3. What arrangements have been made with the local authority to ensure reasonable endeavours are made to secure provision on EHCPs? 
  4. What transition processes/support will be required for pupils with EHCPs to access the EHCP provision agreed?
  5. How will leaders ensure there is sufficient staffing to cover needs requirements?  Do staff have appropriate levels of training?
  6. How will leaders manage the risks around pupils whose condition prevents or inhibits self-regulation and whose behaviours may require physical intervention?
  7. What additional support measures will require consideration for pupils with SEND to understand the ‘new normal’ e.g. social distancing?
  8. How will leaders ensure they are meeting requirements regarding PPE for staff supporting pupils requiring intimate care?
  9. How will families access ‘external’ support for pupils with EHCPs e.g. therapists, social care, health?
  10. Are guidelines in place for essential visitors from external agencies visiting pupils at the school?

Use and adapt this example proforma for your whole school risk assessment.

How should individual risk assessments be updated?

For pupils with education, health and care plans, it is even more important than ever that local authorities, health services and schools work with families to identify appropriate ways forward.  Risk assessments for individuals with EHCPs will now need to be updated to reflect the increasing expectations for these, and other, pupils to be back in school. An updated risk assessment should include the following:

  • the potential health risks to the individual from coronavirus, bearing in mind any underlying health conditions
  • the risk to the individual if some or all elements of their EHC plan temporarily cannot be delivered in the normal manner or in the usual setting
  • the ability of the individual’s parents to ensure that their health and care needs can be met safely week-round or for multiple weeks
  • any risk to siblings or family members if the individual’s condition prevents or inhibits self-regulation and if their behaviours cannot be managed at home
  • the potential impact to the individual’s wellbeing of changes to routine or the way in which provision is delivered
  • any safeguarding risks for children with a social worker if not in school
  • any other out-of-school/college risk or vulnerability.

When updating risk assessments, it is important to take into account that some parents may be unable to sustain the levels of care and support that their children need for a long period of time.

Use and adapt this example proforma for an individual risk assessment.

How do we plan for reasonable endeavours?

For any pupil with an EHCP, once the risk assessment has been updated, it is important to consider the details of their plan and what ‘reasonable endeavours’ can be put in place. This will require considering the following questions about the provision.

What? What provision can reasonably be put in place? Will it be the same or different to that stated in the plan?
Where? Where will the provision be delivered? Will this be the usual setting or somewhere different?
How? How will the provision be delivered? Will the method of delivery be the same as usual or different?
When? When will the provision be delivered? Will the time and frequency be the same or different?
Who? Who will be involved in delivering the provision? Will it be the same person/people to normal or different?

Essex County Council recommend that once parents and school have come to a mutually acceptable agreement they draw up a ‘reasonable endeavours plan’. They have produced an example template to use.

Any ‘reasonable endeavours’ plan will need to be frequently reviewed with parents and updated to reflect changes in the child’s or school’s circumstances.

What about pupils remaining at home?

The DfE is advising that schools, parents and local authorities continue to maintain and update risk assessments for children and young people with EHC plans who remain at home. This will help to inform decisions about the support they should be receiving at home. It will also inform the decision about when it is right for the pupil to return to school and what arrangements will need to be put in place for this to happen successfully.

Last Updated: 
28 May 2020