Looking for the silver linings

Covid 19 and Special Educational Needs

It is important to look for the silver linings in difficult situations. The past few months since the coronavirus pandemic began has seen an increase in communities supporting each other; more quality time together for some families; a refocus on what’s important in life and several other ‘silver linings’. However, it can be difficult to see the silver linings when it comes to the enormous disruption to the education of young people.

“The past few months have seen some major life changes for everyone,” wrote Maddy Shepherd, Dyslexia Scotland Blogger, “...Our involvement in the digital world has certainly become the new normal. However, how has the pandemic affected dyslexics? I think I have definitely seen positive and negative outcomes since we started lockdown.”

Following unexpected and extraordinary challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic, there is serious concern about the effect on education especially for students with special educational needs. A report by the Education Endowment Foundation states that ‘school closures are likely to reverse progress made to close the gap in educational attainment in the last decade.’ The headlines from this report make for difficult reading, especially for professionals who have worked tirelessly to close the gap and help everyone to reach their own full potential.

Ipswich MP, Tom Hunt recently showed his concern and dedication to supporting children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) saying “The disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on children with SEND will be a challenge that we will have to face for many years to come, and I’ll continue to work tirelessly to make sure this virus isn’t a reason why children with SEND can’t achieve their full potential.”

Charities, trusts and private organisations have worked together to provide support and resources to those most at risk of suffering. One such example comes from the Team at Touch-type Read and Spell (TTRS) who worked with The National Literacy Trust and the British Dyslexia Association to offer its established online resource for free to NHS families during school closures and up to 90% sponsorship to others to make the established resource accessible for everyone. TTRS teaches typing, reading, spelling and other subject vocabulary and key concepts. In July 2020, 90+ numbers, numerals and digits modules were added to the resource to support maths learning and confidence as education experts shared increased concerns over the significant risk of maths learning loss.

TTRS granted over 200 free subscriptions to NHS families and in the first two months of lockdown saw a significant increase in home subscriptions. To find out more from families, many with children who have special educational needs such as dyslexia and other specific learning differences, TTRS contacted these new ‘lockdown users’ to establish what support they were looking for and what helped their children.

Survey results highlighted that parents looked to TTRS for the following during school closures a high-quality resource (recommended by specialists); something children could use independently or with little support needed from working parents; a way to develop key skills, confidence and assist with increased online learning.

Arthur Dinas, whose daughter has been using TTRS to support home learning said “She has become more enthusiastic about learning and more willing to challenge herself.”

91% of parents and carers who responded to the survey felt TTRS helped their child(ren) during lockdown and 71% of parents/ carers felt TTRS helped to reduce the effects of missed learning during school closures.

As a society, we have a duty to young people to continue to support the most vulnerable and help to reverse the effects of COVID 19 on children’s learning and development.