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The Education Minister has hit back at opposition and media claims more can be done to ensure vulnerable children receive an education.

It is widely reported in the media that only a minority of vulnerable children expected to still attend school during lockdown have been doing so. Further concern has been raised that children required to do home-learning may have vulnerabilities which have not been considered.

On Wednesday, the Education Minister was called to explain decisions and guidance to other MPs via an online Education Select Committee Meeting. Here is what Education Minister Vicky Ford, had to say.

What have we reported so far?

At a Government briefing on Sunday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson showed appreciation to staff who had kept schools and nurseries open over the Easter holidays to protect vulnerable children.

He also pledged laptops and tablets, as well as additional funding to charities, to help ensure children can receive an online education as well as have greater safeguarding means in their own homes.

Vulnerable pupils are the priority now and when schools reopen

Speaking at an online Government Select Committee meeting which was held online on Wednesday, Education Minister Ford answered a number of questions concerning the protection of pupils both in school and in online learning.

When asked about safeguarding, the Education Minister said:

We put vulnerable children at the very forefront of our thinking from Day One. This is why we took the very difficult decision to close schools but then the very important decision that they would remain open for key workers’ children and vulnerable children. Within that we’ve got two main areas of vulnerable children – those with a social worker and those with an Educational Health and Care Plan (EHC Plan). For those with a social worker, they would be expected to attend school, although that would be a discussion with their social worker. So, if their social worker decided it was safer at home or on placement then that decision can be made on an individual child’s basis. For those with an EHC Plan each child has an individual guidance to individually risk assess whether or not that child is safer in a home setting or an educational setting.

Where a vulnerable child, especially those with a social worker is not attending school there is very clear guidance to school that they must contact social workers and we are working with all local authorities up and down the country to make sure that social workers have a red, amber and green (protocol for) the children that they know to be in need, (in order to) make sure that those they assess to be high-risk have absolutely been in contact with, that they have eyes and ears contact with those young children and young people so that they are absolutely being seen and monitored by these local authorities.

MP’s concern that decision to go to school could be left to families

The MPs asking the questions were concerned about how few vulnerable children were attending school and whether this was at the parent’s (rather than the school’s) discretion.

One said: “Frankly, it could well be the case that parents are part of the reason the child is vulnerable. Did the Government ever consider going further than keeping the option open so that vulnerable children go to school and actually making it a requirement that these vulnerable children need to go to school?”

Ford countered:

First of all, there is a really important Government message about staying at home, protect the NHS, save lives. People are very concerned that they don’t want to get coronavirus and I can absolutely understand that. This is a really important Government message.

We make it very clear that children that have a social worker are expected to attend school and if they’re not then the school is working with their social worker to make sure that we have eyes on them and that they get visits.

Just because the attendance may be low doesn’t mean that those children are not being safeguarded in other ways. This is also why schools are getting out and delivering the free school meals to those households – and those schools absolutely should be congratulated. We know that not all schools can do it which is why we have set up a voucher system. But then you must also seperate those children from children who have got an EHC Plan. I can’t imagine the pressures that families with children with special educational needs and disabilities are under at the moment. We’ve put a huge amount of assistive resources out there, but those children with an EHC Plan may be safer at home. Which is why they’re being risk assessed. It is not the fact that because attendance is low that we are not working across Government to make sure those children are safeguarded. They are our priority and they will always be at this time.

Vulnerable children set to be first on reopening schools list

When asked who she would be prioritising when schools would reopen, the Education Minister pressed that vulnerable children would be the priority. She added:

We are thinking a huge amount about how we reopen. The reopening will only happen when we have the scientific evidence that it is safe to do so.

I always, as the Minister for Children, will be prioritising vulnerable children in my press for how we manage this process. Different countries have looked at this in different ways and those discussions about who needs access most: those who are transitioning or not – that’s early years, going from a pre-school to reception, or reception into Year 1, those who are transitioning into Year 6 upwards, those that have got exams coming up, we will be looking at all the different developments in the rounds and absolutely we will be prioritising those who need the support the most but also what is happening about social distancing and isolation.

EDLounge can help support vulnerable children

EDLounge has been set up to support vulnerable pupils that may not be suited to mainstream education. A bank of more than 11,000 lessons, assessments and tracking ensure pupils receive an education. The online learning platform has helped to re-engage thousands of pupils in education. It is suited for pupils as an alternative provision, exclusion, isolation, mental health problems, long term illness or other vulnerability.

For more information on the groups we recommend use us, click here

EDLounge’s platform is easy to use. Tracking can be used for attendance and a number of safeguarding facilities are built into the software – including alert mechanisms, alarms, chat functions, connections with charities and eyes-on learning. It has helped to improved attendance in schools around the world.

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