Special Schools’ and Colleges’ Experiences of the Covid-19 Pandemic in May 2021: What They Need Now

Amy Skipp, Vicky Hopwood, Claire Tyers, Rob Webster, Ruth Staunton

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


The Government stated that all pupils with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) would be offered a place during educational lockdowns. However, this was not possible for special schools and colleges to provide (as ALL their pupils have EHCPs) and some families chose not to send their children in over these periods. These specialist settings are therefore only now beginning the ‘return to normal’ and this study, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, captures their experiences and thoughts on what needs to happen next to support them and their pupils. It is based on a survey of a representative sample of 192 special education providers in England, depth interviews with senior leaders from 40 of those settings and depth interviews with the parents/carers of 40 pupils who would normally attend them.

Headteachers reported substantial losses in both pupils’ academic progress and their wider development. Headteachers reported that they thought pupils in special schools and colleges were on average around 4 months behind in their academic development. They rated pupils at special schools and colleges as, on average, 5 months behind with their emotional wellbeing and mental health, and around 4.5 months behind with their behaviour and self-regulation; social and communication skills; independence, self-care and life skills. In settings for pupils with health and physical conditions, Headteachers reported that pupils were on average over 5 months behind in their physical development.

The reasons for the types and levels of these losses include:
1. Pupils in special schools and colleges have had reduced time in school. One in four did not attend during the latest lockdown and 1 in ten had not returned by
May 2021.
2. It is difficult to support pupils’ learning when they are not at school, with noted challenges in delivering remote learning.
3. It is a legal requirement that these pupils receive health, therapy, and care input, but their access to this has been severely reduced during the pandemic. This
has not only led to losses wider than academic progress but also resulted in families and staff being unsupported and exhausted.
4. Special settings are still having to restrict what they can offer pupils as they, and wider society, operate under safety restrictions. This has meant pupils not
accessing all of the enrichment activities or their therapeutic and care support, which are vital to their development, wellbeing and independence.

There were wide concerns that the proposed Education Recovery Plan will not be sufficient to address the losses experienced over this period by pupils with EHCPs, their families and the special schools and colleges that support them. This paper sets out what these losses in progress mean for pupils and providers and suggestions for what appropriate support to recover from this period should look like.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherASK Research
Commissioning bodyNuffield Foundation
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jul 2021


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