Special needs schools face agonising decision on which children should return first

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt

The return of children to primary schools next month in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic is an agonising decision for heads of schools around England, but none more so than those at the helm of special needs schools.

Schools which teach the most vulnerable children have warned social distancing will be virtually impossible to implement.

The government plans to re-open schools in England from June 1, with Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 returning first.

In special needs schools, headteachers face the dilemma of deciding which children should return first.

Schools have said socially distancing will be virtually impossible to implement. Credit: ITV News

Adrian Carver, Executive Headteacher at Downs View School, told ITV News: “Many parents are on the edge, it's me who has to say child X comes, child X doesn’t come and that is the judgement I have to absolutely live with professionally and personally because if I say no, I know what I’m consigning a family to, for potentially a protracted period.

"If I say yes then am I exposing other children, their families, my staff to the threat of a virus which does kill people.”

Many children have spent the last eight weeks at home being looked after by their parents, however some do not feel equipped to carry on without additional support, which schools offer.

Laura Barnard's son Ernie has been at home since March, he’s non-verbal with epilepsy and a range of additional needs and she is desperate for him to return to Downs View special needs school in Brighton.

Laura is desperate for her son to return to school. Credit: ITV News

She told ITV News: “Until you have a child that has additional needs you don’t really understand how hard it is, I don’t have the skills to be a physiotherapist or an occupational therapist, or a speech and language therapist, I can only do what I can do.”

But Downs View said it is unable to take on more than 20% of children from June and needs more specialist guidance from the government before it can open again.

Marijke Miles, Chair of SEND Council, National Association of Head Teachers, said: “We haven’t got what we need, we’ve been told repeatedly that potentially things were in the pipeline, that haven’t arrived.

"The guidance that's being issued and the statements that are being issued feel a little bit like, heads you lose, tails you lose, and live with the consequences.”

The government has said it is up to parents, teachers and local authorities to decide what is best, but ITV News understands new guidance for special schools will be published in the coming days.

Downs View said it is unable to take on more than 20% of children from June. Credit: ITV News

However some parents fear their children may not be able to return to schools until the pandemic is over, as they require 24/7 care.

Pippa Hodge has been home-schooling her son Leo, who has Down’s syndrome, autism and respiratory problems.

“I find it very hard to imagine Leo going back to school before next spring, which is a really overwhelming feeling, because of the impact it also has on his sisters,” she told ITV News.

An extra £37 million is being given to children with complex needs, but with no end in sight, right now, some children are paying a heavier price than most.