Letter from the Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams
I hope this letter finds you well, and I ask for you to please share it across as many of your partner organisations as possible. This includes children and young people with special educational needs (SEN), their parents/carers and families, and all others who support them.
I am immensely grateful for the way those supporting children and young people with SEN in Wales have worked together to deal with the challenges of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and to mitigate the impact on learners, their families and staff.
We are all in unprecedented, uncertain and testing circumstances. We know this is particularly challenging for children and young people with SEN, their families, and those who work tirelessly to support and care for them.
This is why we have made announcements and issued FAQs with information about schools and their services during the pandemic. We will continue to update the FAQs regularly. As the Minister responsible for SEN, I wanted to let you know that we are committed to doing everything possible to support you during this difficult time.
Vulnerable children and young people, including those with safeguarding needs and supported by social care, are at the forefront of our minds. We are working in partnership with many organisations, including the Directors of Education, Health and Social Services, to make sure we are focusing our efforts in the right places.
In accordance with Welsh Government advice, childcare and educational settings should now only be open to care for the children of critical workers and vulnerable children/children in need of specialist support and only then if the child cannot be cared for safely at home. A link to a statement made by the Minister for Education and the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services on 20 March is provided here. Further information on the Welsh Government’s definition of critical workers was made available on 27 March and can be found here.
The safeguarding of vulnerable learners remains a priority for all, and local authorities have a duty to meet the needs of learners for whom it maintains a Statement of SEN. Many children who have a statement receive their education in a mainstream setting and would be expected to access provision in the same way as all children in this type of setting. However, for a significant minority who receive their education in a special school setting this would not be appropriate. In the event of a special school closing, the local authority must consider alternative educational provision for learners for whom it maintains a statement of SEN. Residential special schools, boarding schools and special settings should continue to care for children and young people wherever possible, and follow the guidance available on health and wellbeing for school staff and learners. A letter in relation to children living in children’s homes is available here.
On 25 March, the UK Government introduced The Coronavirus Act 2020 in response to the pandemic. Included in the Act are temporary emergency powers to enable Welsh Ministers, where necessary, to modify the legal requirements on local authorities in fulfilling their duties in relation to SEN. We are considering if we need to apply these powers in Wales and will issue information around this as soon as possible.
I encourage you to keep up to date by regularly checking the Welsh Government’s webpages on Coronavirus and please be aware of the mailbox set up specifically for Education queries relating to the Coronavirus: Covid19Education@gov.wales.
The challenges we are now facing serve to further highlight the importance of ensuring the system of support for children and young people with SEN is as effective as possible in the future. Despite the restrictions necessitated by the pandemic, we continue to work towards the successful implementation of the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018, which remains a priority.
I know that by working together, we can ensure that children and young people with SEN receive the support they need during this difficult time.
Thank you again for the incredibly important work you are doing to support the national effort at this exceptionally difficult time.
Kirsty Williams AC/AM
Y Gweinidog Addysg
Minister for Education