Heba Al-Jayoosi

Covid has opened teachers’ eyes to SEND possibilities

While many children with additional needs have found the past year challenging, for some, the flexibility of remote learning has proved beneficial and should not simply be ditched when we get back to ‘normal’, says Heba Al-Jayoosi

Covid and schools: How online learning during the pandemic has opened up possibilities for future SEND support

The pandemic has been hard for everyone but, for many pupils with special educational needs and disability (SEND), and their families, the past year has been particularly challenging. Many of these families already felt marginalised and the sudden shift to remote learning exacerbated difficulties for some.

But there were also pupils with SEND who adapted really well to the change, with schools demonstrating creativity and flexibility in meeting their unique needs.

So, what has the past year taught us about effective SEND education? And how could this help us to change provision for good?

Working collaboratively with families has always been crucial and the pandemic has highlighted just how important school-home collaboration is. In trying to plan any kind of provision for pupils with SEND during lockdown, schools needed to know each individual’s strengths and challenges, as well as the context of their family.

SEND support

This meant answering countless questions: is school or home more conducive to learning? What about the wellbeing of the child? What can the child do independently? How can we use the parent/carer strengths? What resources are needed?

These are questions that continue to matter at all times, not just in the midst of a pandemic. And the solutions that schools devised during lockdown show how we can use such questions to tailor our support.

Some children had home programmes that their families were able to help deliver and many schools were able to lend resources, including gym equipment.

Interventions such as reading recovery, speech and language or occupational therapy are an essential part of provision for many, and teletherapy offered a successful way of delivering some of these remotely.

Those who may have struggled with sensory overload in a regular class enjoyed learning from the comfort of home. The ability to take part in class discussions using the chat function helped many to make extended contributions (much more so than they may have made in class).

Many teachers also planned specific online times for social connection, and the clear rules and codes of conduct were reassuring for some SEND students, particularly in comparison with a busy playground.

Asynchronous online teaching also brought benefits, enabling students to repeat lessons as needed, as well as working to flexible deadlines, giving them more control of their day.

While it might not be easy to replicate all of these benefits in the future, it certainly shows what can be achieved if we take a more flexible approach. Perhaps, for instance, a blended model combining in- and out-of- school learning will really become a feasible option for some pupils.

The pandemic has forced us to rethink how we do things for pupils with SEND – and has given us fresh insight into what matters most for these pupils and their families. We’ve seen benefits and disadvantages, but there can be no denying that it has opened our eyes to what is possible.

I hope that the biggest takeaway from this past year is that we can be more flexible than we used to be. As much as we all want things to return to normal, I’m hopeful that “normal” can become something better than it was before.

Heba Al-Jayoosi is assistant head (inclusion) at Mayflower Primary School in London

This article originally appeared in the 19 March 2021 issue under the headline “Pandemic has opened our eyes to SEND possibilities”

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