Written evidence submitted by the County Councils Network



The Impact of Covid-19 on Education and Children’s Services














  1. The County Councils Network (CCN) represents 36 English local authorities that serve counties. CCN’s membership includes both county council and county unitary authorities who together have over 2,500 councillors and serve over 26m people (47% of the population) across 86% of England and deliver high-quality services that matter the most to local communities, including children’s social care and education services.


  1. CCN’s member authorities have worked hard during the COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown to ensure that children’s services continue to provide the support that children need and that families are properly supported at this difficult time. However, they remain extremely concerned about the impact of the Covid-19 health emergency both on children’s immediate welfare and their long-term wellbeing.  This response summarises some of the major concerns which have been raised by our members during the pandemic in relation to children across the gamut of services provided by local authorities.




  1. There is particular concern about the need which is likely to be created by the impact of the present health emergency – both from the direct effects of Covid-19, but also from the response taken to tackle the virus.  Significant numbers of children and their families are likely to be particularly hard hit by a number of potential calamities:



  1. At present it is impossible to estimate with any great certainty how great the need created by any one of these factors will be.  This will be dependent on as-yet-unknown factors including the length of time different parts of England remain in lockdown; how quickly the economy recovers; and the potential threat of further waves of the virus in the future. 


  1. However, initial estimates suggest it will produce an upsurge in children and families needing support from their local authority.  Since lockdown:



  1. Crucially, county authorities anticipate the impact of the virus will create need from children and families not previously known to the council.  This may mean additional challenges in identifying families in need of support, or an additional cost burden resulting from an increase in support that is required for families.





  1. One specific concern is the impact of trauma on children and young people’s mental health.  Health experts and the NHS are already warning of the effects of the pandemic on children’s mental health lasting a decade[5].  Over recent years local authorities already have built up significant expertise in supporting professionals working with children to understand and manage the impact of trauma on young people – most often situated within the Virtual School.  The Virtual School’s remit should be expanded and given greater resources so that this expertise – currently focussed on the needs of looked after children – can also be shared more widely to help local services to respond effectively to the trauma caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.





  1. CCN recently published the report Children’s Services Funding and Early Intervention,[6], showing how funding of local authority children’s services has changed since 2015/6.  Key findings of the report include:



  1. Although core grant funding for Adult Social Care decreased at a similar rate since 2015/6, the overall trend has been substantially mitigated by the introduction of Temporary Grant Funding since 2017/8.  However, Children’s Social Care has received 20 times less Temporary Grant Funding than Adult Social Care during the past five years.


  1. As a consequence of these reductions children’s services are underprepared to meet any significant upsurge in need.  In particular, the impact on lower-level preventative services means local authorities will have more difficulty in responding as effectively to a rise in need due to less opportunities for identifying vulnerable children and families through, for instance, children’s centres or youth clubs.


  1. The above report was due to be launched just as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, substantially shifting the context in which CCN member authorities are now working.  As such CCN has also issued an accompanying paper – Recovering from Covid-19: Supporting Children and Families [7].  New analysis in this report from CCN member authorities’ has shown that at present the pandemic is expected to add almost £132m in costs to children’s social care in county areas:


Children’s Social Care - workforce pressures:


Children's Social Care - residential care:


Children's Social Care - care leavers:


Children's Social Care – other:














  1. These costs do not reflect the potential loss of other streams of funding.  In particular the Troubled Families Programme for 2020/1 will be hard to access as the criteria for payment by results (such as school attendance or moving parents into work) are likely to be severely distorted by the impact of lockdown. Yet this money will be needed by LAs more than ever to support local families who have been affected by the pandemic – many of whom it is anticipated will not previously have been known to us.  As such CCN suggests the Government should disapply payment-by-results criteria for the Troubled Families programme for 2020/21 and instead distribute under ‘earned autonomy’ status to all local authorities.


  1. It is important to note that these additional costs are unlikely to be covered by the £3.2bn already provided to local authorities (£1.16bn for county authorities).  This is due to the extensive demands being made across all council services, including a particular expectation that a significant portion of this money will be used for Adult Social Care.


  1. The impact of the pandemic is likely to be long and far-reaching, with some of the specific medium- and long-term costs and challenges outlined further in this response.  The findings of CCN’s research emphasise that to meet these challenges is vital that local authorities are provided with the requisite resources to tackle issues arising from Covid-19 not just for the remainder of the present financial year, but across the coming decade.  CCN therefore believes the Government must:





(i) Home to School Transport


  1. CCN member authorities support the ambition that children are able to return to school as soon as it is safe for them to do so.  Local authorities understand this can only be done with a level of social distancing being put in place, both within the school setting but also on Home to School Transport (HTST). However, social distancing is likely to be considerably problematic on HTST – potentially creating a logistical and costly burden that will predominantly fall on county authorities.


  1. This is against a background of fast increasing HTST costs in recent years and the disproportionate impact in county areas which often require children to be transported over long distances to attend school or college: it has previously been estimated that the average HTST costs in county areas are £93 per pupil, almost ten times the average in urban and city areas, where the average cost is £10 per pupil. There are additional issues around HTST in meeting the needs of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)[9].


  1. CCN has identified four key issues for ensuring HTST can operate with effective social distancing:



  1. One additional complicating issue which CCN was dealing with before the pandemic struck is around Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR) 2000.  These regulations, originally due to come into force on 1st January 2020, have the potential to render much of the existing bus and coach fleet as unsuitable for providing HTST.  Due to this issue a one year exemption from PSVAR was granted for HTST until the start of the 2020/21 academic year, but given the impact of Covid-19 CCN believes that this exemption will need to be extended at least until such time that social distancing within HTST is relaxed.


(ii) Special Educational Needs and Disabilities


  1. Last year CCN published research highlighting the accelerating costs of meeting the needs of children and young people with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) since reforms introduced in 2015[10]It is not overstatement to stress that this has been the single most pressing issue which our members have raised prior to the pandemic with regard to children’s services.  Findings of the research included:



  1. The Covid-19 outbreak has disrupted the education of all children, including the ability for SEND requirements to be met.  In particular frontline NHS services have been unable to prioritise statutory Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) assessments due to focussing on responding to the pandemic.  Even despite the pressures on existing local authority resources, this in particular makes it impossible to fulfil local authority duties in the Children and Families Act 2014.


  1. Under the provisions of the Coronavirus Act 2020 the Secretary of State for Education has relaxed these duties so that local authorities should use reasonable endeavour to meet SEND requirements.  However, our members’ experience is that this ambiguous phrase is subject to interpretation and some have been threatened with legal action by some families who expect ‘business as usual’ despite the unprecedented circumstancesUnless SEND duties are suspended in full for the duration of the pandemic and while education is disrupted, this risks precious resource and attention being spent fending off legal challenges rather than focussing on the key objectives of supporting the whole community through the crisis and into recovery.





  1. CCN has noted that there have been increased reporting demands placed on local authorities during the pandemic including on children’s services.  Whilst our members understand the political desire for assurances about the safety and wellbeing of the vulnerable groups of children identified by ministers back in March, the reporting requirements have been developed with only limited input of professionals. 


  1. CCN believe that the impact and value of the combined efforts of schools and children’s services in responding to the pandemic cannot be measured via data alone – especially as much of the data being asked for may be misleading in the present unprecedented circumstances.  The frequency and extent of the burdens recently placed on Directors of Children’s Services risk dragging attention and resource away from meeting the demand of an urgent and swiftly changing situation on the ground and CCN would urge more flexibility from the Government.


June 2020




[2] ADCS president: children’s social care referrals down by up to half, Local Government Chronicle 23 April 2020