The reported effects of the pandemic on pupils in special schools and colleges and what they need now

Amy Skipp, Vicky Hopwood and Claire Tyers - ASK Research | Rob Webster - UCL | Simon Rutt - NFER

15 October 2021

Following on from a previous study of what happened to provision in special settings during lockdowns, this study reports what effects Headteachers felt the pandemic has had on pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs). It involved a representative survey of Headteachers in special schools and colleges in England, followed by depth interviews with a sample of Headteachers and parents of pupils in these settings.

Key Findings

Headteachers from special schools and colleges reported that their pupils:

  • Have gone without therapeutic, respite and care services - Over a third of pupils were still not receiving their legally required input at the end of the 2020/21 academic year.
  • Experienced a wide range of developmental losses - They were 4-5 months behind where they would have been expected to be (had it not been for the pandemic disruption) in their communication and social skills; independence and self-care; and physical development.
  • Have struggled with their metal wellbeing - Almost 1 in 10 settings said overall their pupils were 12 months or more behind where they should have been.
  • Experienced effects on their academic progress - Headteachers rated them as being on average 4 months behind where they should have been in literacy and numeracy, which is greater than effects reported for pupils in mainstream.

These reported effects were all greater in settings with higher rates of Free School Meal eligibility.

Yet Headteachers felt that the recovery support the government had put in place was not suited to their settings or pupils’ needs. Less than 1 in 10 had or had considered accessing the National Tutoring Programme.   

The disruption over this time and reported lack of support had led to negative effects on parents and families of pupils with EHCPs, as well as the staff supporting them.

We conclude recovery support is now needed which:

  • funds activities to help address learning and developmental losses
  • provides additional health and care resource
  • addresses the wellbeing of pupils, families and staff.

This report was originally published in July 2021 and updated in October 2021 following further analysis.