What we did:
Individual support packages were created for each of our children, who have complex needs: resource packs were sent home, log-ins were created for the educational websites we use in school, daily signed videos were sent to pupils setting a task - so the work came from the teacher or therapist, not a parent - increasing the likelihood of engagement. These pre-recorded videos worked better than live chat, which was too overwhelming. As lockdown progressed, fresh tasks/resources were emailed/posted to support the video tasks.
Tasks were designed to encourage communication and interaction, physical exercise, wellbeing and life skills. Regular feedback from parents allowed us to focus on what was successful to reduce pressure on parents and children. The most important factor was maintaining routines, structures and emotional wellbeing.
Easter craft tasks for all children, staff and families were sent out, and we asked for photos to be submitted. From these we created a virtual Easter Assembly for everyone to watch.
A reduced school service restarted at the beginning of May, after feedback from parents highlighted the extreme challenges of life in lockdown with children with complex needs. This was a blended learning package of two days in school and three days continuing with activities at home supplied by teachers.
Who we involved:
Staff, children, parents. Our usual partners who provide a range of activities were closed and many staff furloughed. This is still the case for some; others are now back and have worked closely with us on planning and risk assessments related to Covid-19 safety. Most services accessed by parents for respite were also closed during lockdown.
The difference it made:
The continual contact with parents, throughout lockdown and the Easter holiday, provided a means of support in the absence of the usual support mechanisms relied on by parents (respite, community support workers, grandparents were all unavailable). Some families were close to breaking point during lockdown with no physical support, whilst trying to work from home and care for a child with complex needs alongside siblings.
Most children enjoyed the tasks and it gave the families a focus during the day. Some children struggled with the concept of doing school work at home. We made it clear that the tasks were there as a means of offering structure and engagement, but if they caused more anxiety, they were not compulsory. Some children showed increased independence skills at home that transferred back to school. Some children benefitted from smaller groups back at school.
When we returned in May, the staff and children were split into two teams, each team attending on two separate days a week. The children missed seeing peers from the other team. We sent video challenges from one team to the other and they were delighted to see videos of each other and engage in joint challenges.
What we will do differently in the future:
Children and staff returned full time in August but remain in two separate zones within the building. Children come together for regular outdoor activities and playtimes.
We’ve adapted our review meetings to allow parents to come into an allocated meeting room in the school. External professionals join via video link. This has proved an important opportunity for parents to speak up about gaps in vital services: one child’s respite services were halved and not reinstated, another child experienced delays to his transition process – both situations have had an impact on the whole family. In both cases, external professionals were in attendance virtually and able to take matters forward.
Some changes to practice have been really positive – pupils enjoyed setting up their own work areas and resources trays/bags in class so they are developing increased organisational skills.
When staff were split into two teams upon return in May, we were unable to use our staff expertise across both teams. Since August, our staff with expertise deliver sessions to children in the other zone either via video link (Yoga, BSL) or through joint outdoor lessons (CDT, cricket).
Hygiene practices have improved and this is hopefully well embedded!