SEND pupils return to school: "No one really knows that we're there anymore"

Video report by Sarah Rogers

This week saw millions of children return to school, for some pupils it's been a huge adjustment whilst others settled right back in.

For children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) there's a concern that a return to the classroom still won't mean pupils get the education they deserve.

Max, 12, became very anxious around Christmas time and wouldn't set foot outside of his home until a couple of weeks ago - not even to go into the garden.

Max has an Education, Health and Care plan or EHCP, a legal document that outlines specific needs for children with SEND. His mother Emma told me, "when the pandemic struck it was like those didn't matter anymore" and many services just stopped without notice.

Today, he's back in the classroom at Elms Bank community special school in Bury, it's taken some adjusting to get into a new routine but he's enjoying being with his friends.

The school educates children with a variety of needs. Levente Kerek in year 8 has been able to return despite being on oxygen all the time. His teacher needs to wear medical grade PPE during lessons and at the moment he is being taught alone to limit contact with other pupils.

Levente was keen to get back to school but his carers noticed that his lack of engagement with others has affected his mental well being.

Year 8 pupil Levente Kerek

The headteacher at the school, Orienne Langley-Sadler said they are running at 85% attendance rate with a small number staying home because they need to shield.

She is calling for policy makers to put pupils with SEND in the forefront of their minds and said that the pandemic highlighted that provision for special schools goes way beyond education. It meant that when additional services like speech therapy and physiotherapy for pupils stopped, many families were left isolated and they just couldn't fill in that gap.

The government did launch review into provision for SEND pupils in September 2019, it was later pushed back due to covid. We're told it'll be published 'early this year.'

A statement from the Department for Education added, "Our further investment of £300 million for tutoring, building on the existing £1 billion Covid Catch Up Fund, can also be used to improve access to technology, extra teaching capacity or speech and language therapy for pupils with additional needs."

Drew, Ted and Kim Harrison

For some very vulnerable pupils online learning will continue. Ted Harrison is currently shielding with his family due to his complex needs. His dad Drew said the family "has always fought" for their son to get the right care and will continue to do so. He and his wife Kim added that Elms Bank had "been a lifeline" when other therapies for Ted stopped.

Ted's teacher Anna Gershlick who has been using music therapy to connect with pupils said, "it's so important pupils have a voice."

But there are concerns some parents at other schools are being told their child needs to stay home when they should be allowed back into school. The founder of parent led, campaigning group 'Special Needs Jungle' said parents need to know their rights so their children don't get left behind.