Special schools' and colleges' experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic, May 2021: What they need now

Amy Skipp, Vicky Hopwood, Claire Tyers – ASK Research; Rob Webster, UCL and Ruth Staunton, NFER

14 July 2021

This follow-up study explores what has happened to provision in special schools and colleges in 2021. A representative sample of Headteachers were surveyed to explore what effects the pandemic period had had on pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs). The survey was followed by depth interviews with Heads and parents of pupils in specialist settings.

Key Findings

Headteachers from special schools and colleges reported that:

  • They thought pupils were around 4 months behind in their academic development - greater than the 2½ -3 month loss of progress previously reported for pupils in mainstream settings
  • Pupils were, on average, between 4 and 5 months behind with their emotional wellbeing and mental health; behaviour and self-regulation; social and communication skills; and independence, self-care and life skills.
  • Pupils with health and physical conditions were on average over 5 months behind in their physical development.
  • Special schools and colleges with the highest proportions of disadvantage had seen greater effects. Pupils in these settings were on average thought to be around 6½ - 7 months behind academically and up to 8½ months behind developmentally (an additional 3 to 4½ months behind their peers)
  • The reasons for these effects were given as:
    • Pupils in special schools and colleges have had reduced time in school and supporting them at home is difficult
    • Access to health, therapy, and care input has been severely reduced
    • Special schools and colleges have been unable to provide their normal wide offer of support due to restrictions in place
  • Headteachers and parents felt that the government’s educational recovery plan needed to focus on the needs of pupils with EHCPs, their families and providers