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Quantifying learning loss for pupils in special schools and colleges


A new report by ASK Research, supported by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), suggests that those pupils with EHCPs attending special schools and colleges have experienced between 4 to 5 months’ worth of learning loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This loss is even greater for pupils in more disadvantaged areas who may be up to have lost an additional 3 to 4 and a half months of learning relative to their peers.  
The survey of headteachers and in-depth interviews of headteachers and parents identified four key factors that they felt contributed to the scale of losses:
1.    Pupils in special schools and colleges have had reduced time in school
Despite the Government stating that all pupils with an EHCP would have a place in their setting, 1 in 4 pupils still did not attend. This was due to a mixture of schools not having sufficient capacity and parental choice based on safety concerns. By May 2021, around 1 in 10 pupils had still not returned.
2.    Supporting pupils with EHCPs when not in school is difficult
Remote learning was difficult for families of pupils with EHCPs, with families identifying IT access and competing demands including working and supporting home learning of other children as key issues they faced. Many children’s needs had increased and their wellbeing had deteriorated due to the disruptions to normal life and routines. This was compounded by having very little support available. 
3.    It is a legal requirement that these pupils receive health, therapy, and care input, but their access to this has been severely reduced 
Only around 7 in 10 pupils with EHCPs received their full legally require support during the last lockdown (January to March 2021). Around 1 in 10 received little or no input at all. By May 2021, around 2 in 10 pupils were still not receiving their full health and therapeutic input or social care support. Families are struggling to manage with reduced or no access to respite services. 
4.    Special settings are having to restrict the offer to pupils as they, and wider society, operate under restrictions necessary to ensure safety
On-site activities, including therapies and social events, were either severely limited or cancelled. Off-site curriculum activities, such as swimming, travel training, work experience, were also not able to take place in 70% of settings surveyed.
The recommendations for effective recovery for special schools, colleges and pupils echo those put forward for education more generally:
•    Focus on more than educational attainment
•    Specifically address emotional wellbeing and mental health – of pupils and staff
•    Increase health and care input for pupils with EHCPs
•    Extend support to families – ensuring they also recover and are able to support their children
•    Be informed by experts – trusting headteachers to decide what their setting needs and how best to allocate funding 
•    Allow sufficient time for real recovery – not just offering a 'one off' or short-term solution
•    Address pre-existing funding shortfalls in SEND, which will have been exacerbated by the changes brought about by the pandemic. 

The full report is available below.