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COVID-19 and the Impact on Special Educational Needs Provision

09 Apr 2021

COVID-19 and the Impact on Special Educational Needs Provision

By Mark Richards, 


Ofsted published a briefing paper in December 2020 on special educational needs and disabilities provision, after gathering evidence from leaders and practitioners in education, health and social care. The interim visits, carried out during the autumn term, were used to gather information about how the education and physical and emotional health of children have been supported during the pandemic.

The findings of the briefing paper laid bare some particularly concerning issues. Firstly, it was found that SEND pupils were less likely to be attending school than their peers. Although this disparity is nothing new, additional barriers to attendance have been experienced by some young people with SEND because of the pandemic. Factors include anxieties felt by parents/carers and the young people themselves, problems accessing transport to and from school, and medical conditions meaning that they were required to shield.

A really worrying issue is the increased levels of abuse and neglect that some children may have been exposed to during such a prolonged absence from school. The problem is that when children are away from education, the dedicated practitioners who are trained to look for the tell-tale signs of abuse are not in regular contact with the young people, and unable to detect issues. With children out of sight, some have been experiencing domestic and emotional abuse and neglect.


Problems with curriculum access

It was also found that even when SEND pupils were attending their educational settings as normal, most were unable to access a full curriculum. This is not a criticism of schools, but the need for part-time timetables, the expected focus on core subjects, and the fact that it is more difficult to follow coronavirus guidance in certain subjects have all led to curriculum access issues. Of course, the major worry here is that some children with SEND could be missing out on essential learning that prepares them for adult life.

In addition, it would appear that many practitioners working with young people with SEND have struggled personally and professionally with the pandemic. Many have gone above and beyond to support young people, but sometimes this may have been to the detriment of their own health and well-being.

In most mainstream schools, the attendance picture was described as being erratic, with some schools arranging part-time schedules to support pupils’ transition back to school, or to allay the anxieties of parents and carers. Many schools also reported some pupils with SEND had been experiencing difficulties getting used to with new routines and settling back to being with other pupils. Others had found being taught in bubbles difficult, and many young people with SEND were suffering with general anxiety issues.

It is clear that all education settings working with children and young people with SEND have tried admirably to maintain the level of care and support given to pupils with special educational needs. However, one thing that has become crystal clear from the pandemic is that is the most vulnerable in society who have been impacted the most. In educational settings, some of our most vulnerable are children and young people with SEND.


1Covid-19 and Children’s Mental Health

2How Coronavirus Is Affecting Schools Around the Globe

3. Introducing Contemporary Art in Early Years and School Education

4. Educational attainment and outcomes for children from poorer families

5. The Impact of Coronavirus on Education


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