The Education Committee hears evidence on the impact of coronavirus on vulnerable children

The Education Select Committee held the third evidence session of their inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on education and children’s services on Tuesday. First to give evidence were Jenny Coles, President at the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, and Javed Khan, CEO at Barnardo’s.

Supporting vulnerable children

Both emphasised the current impact that the lockdown was having on vulnerable children. Javed Khan mentioned that they had done a survey of their frontline practitioners, covering about 1000 members of staff. 75 per cent were supporting families affected by school closures, 38 per cent were supporting families where children could attend school but were choosing not to, and 48 per cent were reporting that there were children that they had safeguarding concerns about, but the families were refusing contact due to self-isolation. These figures highlight the broad challenges currently faced in supporting vulnerable children.

Jenny Coles reiterated these concerns, and that LAs were developing new ways of contacting families, and that a variety of services are carrying on. She also said that in some cases looked after children were thriving without the normal pressures of school, and so in these cases the concern was for the longer term.

Local partnerships and strategic networks

This longer term concern was mentioned by both, with vulnerable children having many of their pre-existing challenges exacerbated, and also for those hidden cases which may emerge as a result of the lockdown, but haven’t yet been identified. Javed Khan said schools would play a central role in identifying these vulnerable children, and acting as a safe space within the community. For this to take place though, schools would need proper supporting and funding, and the development of new strategic networks.

Jenny Coles similarly discussed the importance of strategic networks, and that in dealing with the current challenges LAs were developing important partnerships which she hoped to see continuing to develop in the longer term. Both argued that these networks and partnerships should be utilised to ensure that we are not just focussing on the academic impact of the coronavirus lockdown, but of equal importance to ensure pastoral support.

After this, Emily Konstantas, Chief Executive of The Safeguarding Alliance, Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of National Association of Head Teachers gave evidence.

Emily Konstantas reiterated many of the points raised in the previous session, noting that schools know their children, and so are well placed to identify vulnerable children and would need relevant support and powers to address this.

Guidance from the Department for Education

Paul Whiteman answered questions on the guidance from the Government on schools reopening, noting that while the NAHT have been engaged with the DfE, the conversations were general. He expressed disappointment that the advice being given out appeared contradictory, and the lack of clarity on how to accommodate social distancing measures, and was concerned that the Government guidance would not give confidence to parents or staff. He went on to say that teaching staff do want to reopen schools, and none want to delay this, but only if they could be confident it was safe to do so.

Summer holidays

Further questions in this session looked at opening schools over the summer. Paul Whiteman expressed concerns about fatigue for both staff and children, due to the lack of a proper break since December and fears that this may lead to burnouts. Emily Konstantas said it would have to be established what schools would be doing over summer if they were open, whether this would be educational or as a wider care setting. She argued that schools could be open, but as hubs for support, not necessarily staffed by teachers.

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