Written evidence submitted by the University of Sussex












































































The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on schools and education for all children not least through school closures and the shift to home learningChildren with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are already a vulnerable group in the education system, often requiring specialist teaching and support, and most only had limited access to this provision during the lockdown[1].  For some children the removal of the pressures of performative expectations and social interactions may have been beneficial but for others the lack of routine, structure and peer interaction could have been very challenging. Understanding the experiences of parent carers of children with SEND during lockdown is key to informing priorities and preferences for this much anticipated and orchestrated academic year.


Aims and purpose of the study

The aim of this research was to explore the experiences of parent carers of children with SEND during the time of the Covid-19 limited school provision (23rd March - 1st July 2020) in order to inform schools about parent perspectives about the transition back to school and ongoing SEND provision.  This brief report summarises these themes and recommendations and a more detailed analysis, as well as follow up research with some of these parents, will be reported on later this year, including parental recommendations for any future school closures or restrictions.


Data collection method and participant characteristics


Ethical approval was obtained at the University of Sussex ethics board in July 2020.  The survey was developed through a collaborative process that included parent carers who have children with SEND.


Key Findings

  1. Prior to Covid-19, most parent carers identified that their child had some preferences for school and was making progress.


‘We have had generally good relationships with school, they have some fantastically committed subject staff, she has valued her relationships with peers and this has been important for developing her confidence and independence.’



  1. Children felt less stressed and anxious while at home during lockdown.

‘The huge drop in anxiety by not being at school. He struggles with eating and weight gain but since stopping school has gained 3kg and looks amazing. He is not bullied or left feeling worthless anymore like he does at school.’             

According to parent carers, most of the children in the survey felt less stressed and anxious while at home during lockdown, they particularly cited the following positive experiences:


  1. During lockdown, social interaction and communication were the areas where parent carers felt their children had fallen behind.


‘I feel the main area that was affected by lockdown was how he is socially. As a child with ASD he already choosing to self-isolate a lot during class/playtime and school have worked very hard to encourage him to engage with others (in his own way) & had been successful however he is much more socially anxious now & has separation anxiety having not been in a classroom for so long.’ 



  1. Parent carers want a gradual and flexible return to school.


‘A gradual return or flexi-schooling, time spent focused on adapting to change back to school routine rather than academics.’



  1. A focus on relationships, wellbeing and routine are vital components for the return to school.

‘Wellbeing and helping children to feel safe and secure and providing fun learning opportunities that all children can access irrespective of their lock-down experience.’


  1. Parent carers had varied and diverse experiences during lockdown.

‘Loved it. Spent a huge amount of quality time with my child. Wish we could do it more often!’

‘It has devastated our family, relationships and has had a horrifically damaging impact on our non-SEND child. I became unemployed. Our house move stopped... It has caused me mental health problems and extreme exhaustion.’



Key Recommendations

  1. The return to full time education should be a slow and gradual approach that supports the individual needs of children with SEND and their families.
  2. Teachers, teaching assistants and SENCOs should take time listen to parent carers and children with SEND as they have had unique experiences that can be used to revitalize and improve education.
  3. Priority should be given to routines, wellbeing and social aspects of education ahead of academic pressure.


Recommendations for the first few days and weeks of school:

The first few days of education should be a gradual and flexible process that reflect the experiences, preferences and concerns of children with SEND.


Recommendations for the first term back at school

Teachers and schools should focus on mental health, wellbeing, routines and relationships across the first term of full-time education.


September 2020


[1] Coronavirus and SEND Education Survey- https://www.specialneedsjungle.com/coronavirus-send-education-survey/#DLreport