Minister Vicky Ford thanks parent carer forums for their work during the Covid-19 crisis
May 12, 2020
On 11 May, NNPCF co-chairs Tina Emery and Mrunal Sisodia met with Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford to discuss the government’s ongoing response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Minister was very aware of all the work that the parent carer forums have been doing in response to the pandemic and thanked them for their input and contribution.
The Minister summarised the government’s initial plans for a phased return to schools which can be found here in the updated guidance issued yesterday
In our conversation, Tina and Mrunal emphasised two key points to the Minister.
Firstly, the importance of coproduction. Parents must be involved in all the decisions about what is best for their children. The government, local authorities and schools should not be seen to be “ordering” children back to school. All decisions should be made in discussion with parents taking into account the particular circumstances of their family.
Secondly, we urged the minister to ensure that the messages from national government, local government and schools were consistent and led by the science. Individual settings will need to interpret and adapt guidance to apply in in their own particular circumstances but this must be clearly understood and explained to parents. Families must understand what individual schools are doing, why this is being done and most importantly, how this means that their children are safe.
Finally, the Minister asked to see the working document prepared by the NNPCF that summarises the feedback we have heard from local forums about the re-opening of schools – see below.
Working list of NNPCF thoughts on school re-opening
11 May 2020
This is a working list of points that the NNPCF have gathered from local parent carer forums. It has been used as a briefing note for the representations the NNPCF has made to government on the re-opening of schools. As a working list, this is subject to being amended/ changed.
- The importance of co-production, both individual and strategic. No blanket policies of decisions should be made and everything should discussed and agreed with families – this includes decisions such as when to return to school. PCFs should be involved in strategic decision making.
- A crystal clear national message (led by and based on the science) must be given that it is safe to return to school – this must explain to families why it is safe. Otherwise many families will be reluctant to send their children back to school. We understand that local school leaders will need to implement national guidance for their own circumstances. They will need to be very clear on any variations from national guidance – otherwise this will cause confusion, mistrust and again, parents will not engage.
- National government departments and agencies must work together. Local areas must similarly work together to shape their strategic response to Covid-19 and to individual families.
- We must not forget the children who do not have an EHCP but have SEND. Reasonable adjustments must be made for children on SEN support as well.
- Also remember that SEND is 0-25.
- Any easements to existing rights must only be implemented when absolutely necessary and should apply for as short a time as possible. We do accept that some changes may be necessary in this period (e.g. because of high levels of staff absences).
- Easements must be implemented in a structured and planned way that understands and mitigates the risks. Local areas should have clear plans for how they will return to normal.
- Risk assessments must put the child, family and their circumstances at their core, not the institution or school.
- When planning for an end to lockdown, we must make sure that early help services, especially mental health, behavioural, counselling and social care are primed and ready to respond if there is a spike in need. Local areas should be working with schools to make sure support is available and publicised. Children and families who may need this help should be offered it directly.
- When lockdown ends, we must make sure that we do not forget that some medically vulnerable children may not return to school. We must not forget about these and we must make sure that proper provision is made for them if they need to continue to be home schooled.
- Similarly, parents of children who must remain medically shielded must be given leeway by employers (and state through continued support if self employed) to continue to care for their children and not be pressured to return to work. If necessary, alternative childcare arrangement (safe ones) should be made.
- Many families will struggle to adjust as lockdown eases. They will need to be given support and time and not treated punitively. For example we may see:
- Increases in absences and school refusal (parents should not be fined for keeping children at home)
- Behavioural problems – school behaviour policies must reflect this (traumatised, worried or confused children should not be excluded or disciplined)
- Social care thresholds may need to be changed
- More people may chose to continue to home educate if they have found that it works for them
- Environmental factors (such as whether transport services are running and safe, whether cleaning materials / staff are available and whether PPE is available for schools that have to perform personal care) will be important before parents feel confident in returning to school.
- Social distancing may be very difficult for many pupils with SEND. They may not understand or adhere to it.
- The health inequalities suffered by SEND children must be recognised and it must be understood that these may have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 lockdown period. For example, annual health reviews missed, physio appointments missed leading to long term issues and discomfort.
- When schools return, inspectors should place a greater emphasis on the holistic wellbeing of children and families rather than narrow academic achievement. This will give families greater confidence and we believe will influence the behaviour and priorities of school leaders.