The government’s guidance on vulnerable children is that they should be in school or college. However, the longer the coronavirus crisis continues, it's important to keep a watching brief on this, and on how we interpret this guidance on the ground.
For vulnerable children and young people to be kept as safe as possible involves making complex decisions about where they will be safest – is this at school or college, or at home?
The government has identified five groups of vulnerable pupils:
- Previously looked after children
- Children subject to a child protection plan or CIN
- Children who have a social worker
- Children with an EHCP
- Children on the edge of social care involvement or pending allocation of a social worker
In addition, school and college leaders have the flexibility to offer places to children who don't come into these categories, but for whom they have concerns.
One size does not fit all.
For example, if a child is Looked After it doesn't necessarily mean they are at risk at home. The government is asking us to look carefully at these pupils and balance the risks.
Those with an EHCP should be risk-assessed by their school or college, in consultation with the LA and their parents or carers, to decide whether they need to continue to be offered a school or college place in order to meet their needs, or whether they can safely have their needs met at home.
It is important that we look beyond the label
to balance the health risks
of coming into school or college against the safeguarding
risk of staying at home. This should be done on a case-by-case basis.
As leaders, our decisions come down to safeguarding wellbeing. There are two key steps to take on this:
- Asking where this child is currently safest.
- Keeping the most vulnerable pupils under review.
On-going risk assessments may well mean that some of our most vulnerable pupils are best served by staying at home.
Government guidance about children supported through social care, with EHC plans or identified as vulnerable by their school or local authority
was updated on 17 April to clarify the actions to be taken for each group around the attendance or otherwise at an education setting.
Finally, on 24 April the Secretary of State wrote
to all education providers to thank them for their support in caring for the most vulnerable children and young people, and to emphasise the need to ensure that many of these children and young people are supported to attend an education setting where it is in their best interests to do so.