1. Masks/face coverings

Many staff working with SEND pupils are unable to socially distance because of the nature of the support they provide. NEU advice to all members is that “no member of staff or pupil should be prevented from wearing a face mask if they wish to do so and we anticipate that the majority of schools will respect this.”

The latest NEU advice on PPE can be found at neu.org.uk/advice/coronavirus-what-you-need- know-personal-protective-equipment.

2. Phased return for SEND

The DfE guidance for both special and mainstream schools full opening in September says that “where pupils have social and emotional challenges arising as a response to lockdown a phased return may be appropriate where needed.” The NEU advises that where this is appropriate for a SEND pupil, who may need more time and additional support to adapt to new routines and class layouts etc a phased return should be considered following discussion with parents/carers.

Some special schools are already planning for a phased return of pupils in order to ensure that each child has the support they need to return to school in the safest and most positive way.

3. Blended learning

Schools will be planning for a potential blended learning approach from September in case of local, or another national, lockdown in the months ahead. The NEU believes that the DfE should be doing much more to support schools on SEND and should be deploying additional staff and enabling smaller class sizes so that those
SEND pupils who would benefit from a more individual and blended approach can be fully supported.

Recent parent surveys have found that some SEND pupils were much happier learning from home during lockdown. A one size fits all approach to returning in September will not work for many SEND pupils and working with parents to create a blended or phased return is likely to be a more effective way of easing some SEND pupils back into school. This can only be achieved and sustained, however, if staffing levels are increased. Specialist support staff must continue to be deployed to work with SEND pupils and their families to assist with new routines and processes and SENCOs will need additional time to work with students, and deliver staff training, during the autumn term.

Further advice on blended learning can be found on our Managing Learning Appropriately in the Autumn Term page – neu.org.uk/tags/ september-learning.

4. Specialist teachers and peripatetic staff

Staff who, as part of their core work, have to move between individual pupils and work across different schools and settings do need reassurance about keeping themselves and their pupils safe. The DfE advice says that peripatetic staff (EPs, SaLTs, OTs) and specialist teachers (such as QToDs and QTVIs) are allowed to move between schools/bubbles to work. The NEU joint union checklist (with special school supplement) - and supply teacher checklist - provide the questions to ask regarding safety when working across different schools and settings. Further advice is also available in the NEU advice for medically vulnerable and higher risk groups.

5. SEND Support staff safety

Support staff work closely with SEND pupils and can be at greater risk of infection from the ‘airborne transmission of respiratory droplets’ when working with children who, due to their SEND, may spit and sneeze without covering their mouth etc. Throughout the coronavirus period the NEU has sought better advice from the Government and Public Health England on the use of PPE and face masks for staff working with SEND pupils. The official advice remains that where PPE is ‘normally’ worn staff should continue to wear it. As staff are not ‘normally’ exposed to a deadly virus the NEU does not think this advice is good enough and will continue to press the government to accept the additional risks associated with working in special schools and with some SEND pupils and ask that they firmly recommend the use of PPE/face masks/ coverings by staff where they deem it necessary.

6. Specialist equipment cleaning

Specialist equipment which is used by SEND pupils will need to be cleaned between each use. Schools should have arrangements in place for this with cleaning staff allocated this as a task or additional time allowed for staff working with the pupils to clean the equipment thoroughly.

The NEU SEND planning for September checklist sets out specific questions for SENCOs and reps to ask school leaders about how these arrangements should be planned. As SEND staff you know the importance of SEND pupils having access to specialist equipment which they may have had to do without for many months during lockdown.

7. Staff at greater risk

The NEU has updated its medically vulnerable and higher risk groups advice - which is for school and college employees who are medically vulnerable or otherwise at higher risk from Covid-19 or who live with or care for such people. The advice recommends that school and college leaders carry out individual risk assessments for all staff to work out what adjustments to working arrangements might be needed for them. The risk assessment should take into account the additional risks, if any, to staff working with SEND pupils.

8. Mental health and well-being

Returning to the workplace in September will, even for those staff who have been working in school throughout the coronavirus period, cause anxiety for many.

The NEU has updated advice on staff mental health.