100% of our pupils have EHC plans. Should we allow all of them to come to school during this period?
The advice from the Department for Education (DfE) is that schools should continue to try to reduce the number of pupils coming into school by encouraging parents to keep their children at home, wherever possible. The DfE has said it expects around 10% of students to be in school: this means most parents need to make alternative arrangements. The advice is that most children should be staying at home. The NEU is working hard to get this message to parents and to ask the Government to continue to reiterate this.
All schools, nurseries and local authorities should undertake a risk assessment to establish the individual needs of children with an Education Health and Care (EHC) plan. School leaders and staff can decide whether the child’s needs should be met in school, or whether they are safer at home. Leaders are entitled to exercise their professional judgement on whether a child can be kept safely on site with the staffing available.
The NEU is trying to get the message out widely to parents - and is asking the DfE to continue to publicise - that children should be kept at home, wherever possible, in order to reduce the transmission rate of Covid19.
If the school does not have the staff ratios to support pupils safely should it be closed?
Yes. If you do not feel that the school can safely support pupils with the staff ratios and range of staff that are available to work, as a leader you have the discretion and ability to close the school.
If, as a leader, you deem a child or family to be at significant risk because of challenges in the home environment linked to meeting the additional needs of the child full time, we advise you to consider the feasibility of offering some days of respite in school. If this is not possible in your school, seek advice from the local authority. Discuss this with the parent and carer.
The NEU is advising every head teacher to use a rota system to keep the minimum number of staff in school to reduce the transmission rate of the virus. Keeping students and staff safe is most important. Until the DfE provides testing for education staff, high numbers of staff will need to self-isolate where they have symptoms, or where they have family members who have underlying health conditions.
Do parents have the right to demand a place for their child if they have an EHC plan?
No, parents do not have a right to demand a school place for a pupil with an EHC plan. Ultimately the head teacher has the responsibility and the right to decide whether a special school can stay open, and for how many students.
The Government advice asks schools to undertake a risk assessment to decide whether an individual pupil with an EHC plan can have their needs met safely in the school, with the staff available and the need for social distancing between students. Head teachers should liaise with staff who know pupils well to make decisions on which pupils would be safer in school than at home.
It is legitimate for you as a head teacher to use your discretion to close the school at any time if you no longer deem it to be safe for pupils and staff. Your decision may be based on insufficient staff numbers, or insufficient experienced staff to safely fulfil ratios, or issues linked to the ability to maintain acceptable hygiene standards.
If your student population will find it particularly hard to understand the message about hand washing, and distancing, that is a relevant factor for you to consider in whether it is possible to stay open.
Our pupils do not understand social distancing and need support with personal hygiene from staff. I believe that without testing and proper equipment for the staff there is a risk of them spreading Covid -19. Should the school close?
Yes, as a head teacher you can take this decision. You can use their discretion to decide whether to keep the school open or to close it. If you and the staff do not feel it is possible to keep hygiene to a safe level, or to maintain social distancing, then it is reasonable and in the best interests of public health for you to close the school. The NEU thinks that the local authority should be providing coordination.
Should all staff be asked to come in to school if most of the pupils are in?
If some staff need to be in school to support pupils, you should split them into teams on a rota system. This could involve teams working on the basis of, for example, two weeks in school, two weeks working at home and two weeks on leave. But there are a range of systems which could work to ensure that not all staff are required in school. You should discuss these arrangements with your staff and union reps.
No staff should be coming in for whole staff meetings, or for any activity that is not working directly with students, for example for cleaning or opening/closing the school.
How can my staff keep themselves as safe as possible in school?
In special schools we recognise that there are additional challenges for some children in terms of social distancing and handwashing. You may also need to consider additional hygiene measures where staff have to support pupils with personal care during the day, such as changing nappies or pads, etc.