As we begin to find some normality post-lockdown, children across the country are returning to school. For parents, this is an anxious time. Navigating the huge grey-area between the safety of our children and the importance of their education feels like an impossible task. This is probably much more difficult for parents and carers of disabled children with additional or complex needs.
To make this struggle easier Contact, the national charity for families with disabled children have shared several pieces of information from various sources to help support children in returning to school.
Contact’s own ‘Back to School Advice’ includes guidance on special schools, travelling advice and how to prepare your child to return to school.
For children aged 5-16, returning to school is mandatory and subject to local authority fines for failure to attend, but there are some exemptions:
- If a child has Covid-19 symptoms, or have tested positive for Covid-19 or
- are a close contact of someone who has Covid-19 or,
- they have been advised to shield on clinical or public health advice. (This might be because they are in the clinically extremely vulnerable group and there is a local rise in infection rates).
Lockdown and school closures have put an enormous amount of pressure on the shoulders of children. Home-schooling and the wider COVID-19 situation across the UK have had a profound effect on their mental health. The Mental Health Foundation has published guidance on returning to school after lockdown. It includes information on navigating loss and bereavement, different home environments, inequalities, uncertainty, transition periods and friendship and bullying. Some helpful tips for parents and carers are also included to help caregivers mentally prepare children to return to school. Guidance is also available from Young Minds to help parents and carers to support a child in the transition back to school life.
For children with Autism, learning from home may have initially been a huge challenge, but after five months, they are more than likely to have settled into a routine at home where they feel safe. National Autistic Society’s back to school guidance contains key information on the return to school for children with autism and advice on how to prepare them for their return.
Five months is a long time particularly for a child, and after the initial return, children will continue to need support to settle back into school. Further support may be needed for children with SEND. To help with the adjustment in going back to school, the Special Educational Needs Resources Blog has collated various helpful resources to help children with additional needs to settle back into school. It also includes a free downloadable ‘social story’ for returning to school after lockdown. Autism Hampshire has also published some useful back to school resources together with several tips for schools in supporting students in this transition.
This guidance from the Council for Disabled Children provides advice on safety measures on home-school transport and the importance of risk management and specific advice for children with Autism.
This video book from Twinkl encourages younger children to share their worries and feelings about restarting school. The illustrations show children learning from home, dealing with missing their friends and family and practising social distancing to help children to share their lockdown experiences.
This uncertain time has put a strain on the whole country, and school closures have had a huge impact on the lives of children and young people. Reopening and returning to school, and ensuring their safety whilst there, are essential for the welfare of children. Understandably, many parents and caregivers are just as anxious as the children and this report explains just how a large proportion of parents are feeling. Parents struggling with their own anxieties about having to send their children back to school may find these tips from Action for Children useful.
Official government guidance for parents and carers on the return to schools can be found here.