Schools must check on vulnerable pupils, says Longfield

Children’s commissioner issues plea as union highlights teacher anxiety about vulnerable pupils after school closures

Coronavirus: Vulnerable pupils who are not attending school should be visited at home by teachers or social workers, says children's commissioner Anne Longfield

The children’s commissioner for England has praised schools where teachers are continuing to visit vulnerable pupils – and has called for all schools follow suit.

Anne Longfield’s office has today published data showing the numbers of children at risk during the partial school closures in every local authority in England.

She said: “The coronavirus emergency has put hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children in England at heightened risk.

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“While the government’s decision to keep schools open for the most vulnerable children is welcome, sadly most of them are just not showing up.

"They are most likely at home, often exposed to a cocktail of secondary risks – a lack of food in the house, sofa-surfing or cramped living conditions, neglect, or experiencing acute difficulties due to parental domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health problems.

"Many will be caring for parents or siblings themselves in these incredibly difficult circumstances.

“I applaud the efforts of some schools and councils to ensure vulnerable children are still being visited by teachers or social workers. I’d like to see this extend throughout the country."

The impact of coronavirus on vulnerable pupils

She added that she would like to see nationwide rollout of the collaboration between schools and councils to "ensure that all children known to be vulnerable are still being seen by professionals":

“The lockdown has removed most of the usual ways of identifying children at risk. The secretary of state for education has this week written to school leaders and local authorities setting out the importance of encouraging vulnerable children into school, which is a very welcome step.

"However, the great majority of children with a social worker are not attending school, and other community hubs – such as doctor’s surgeries, youth centres, children’s centres and libraries – are closed.

"Some schools are working with councils to ensure that all children known to be vulnerable are still being seen by professionals; the children’s commissioner wants this replicated throughout the country.”

Meanwhile, the NEU teaching union has welcomed the data, but has spoken of teachers’ anxiety over the plight of disadvantaged pupils.

Joint-general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “Children are not ‘hidden’ from schools. Schools know their students really well and care deeply about children who face challenges.

"The Covid-19 crisis weighs heavily on teachers' minds, causing sleepless nights, anxiety and ongoing worry – they know going to school is such a vital part of life for children in usual times.

“School staff are responding to this crisis in creative and flexible ways to support the children who are at home.

"Staff are focused on both learning and wellbeing but also on getting food and vouchers out and sorting access to technology."

He added: "Creating reassuring environments and supporting the wellbeing of children is more important than pushing children through the curriculum.”

The commissioner’s data will be used by the government to help it monitor the safety and care of vulnerable children and young people through the coronavirus crisis.

The DfE has been contacted for comment.

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Dave Speck

Dave Speck is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Specktator100

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