ESPCF update - September 2020

We signed off our last update with the promise that ESPCF would be working hard during the summer, preparing for all that September might bring. Now that we’re here, how did it go?

For many of us, the start of school loomed large, and began to feel a bit like a leap into the unknown. A significant concern was whether the right support would be in place ready for when the school gates opened. So ESPCF was keen to ensure that the needs of SEND families were recognised and taken into account in back-to-school comms from the local authority. We worked with ISEND to produce an information sheet for parent carers with the aim of providing a starting point for seeking advice and support.

Prior to this, just as summer term finished but already with an eye on September, we wrote a joint letter (with Amaze and other local forums) to Sussex education leaders calling for an inclusive and non-punitive return to school. Download a PDF of the letter here.

While still very early days, emerging back-to-school themes and issues so far include:

  • Timetabling: part-time or reduced hours for some children, or full-time proving too challenging a transition for others
  • Home-to-school transport: initial problems with lack of communication for some families
  • Pupils needing to be collected early due to behaviour
  • The availability of the ESBAS helpline, particularly during September.

Home to school transport dominated our summer agenda. In late July and the first half of August, we met with a transport lead from the local authority who responded positively to our suggestions on working together to provide information for families about new travel arrangements.

We were, however, frustrated that this positive momentum did not carry forward into the lead up to schools reopening. We were extremely disappointed to hear that some families were only notified about their child’s taxi at the last minute, if at all, and with no time for familiarisation visits.

We did our best to follow up with our members who raised concerns, and forum staff flagged urgent cases to ISEND. We’ll be requesting a meeting with representatives from transport to examine what happened, but in the meantime, please keep updating the forum on your experiences by emailing us at [email protected]

Alongside preparing for schools reopening, we have been making progress on other key workstreams:

  • Work continues towards developing a Self-Evaluation Framework for the Joint Local Area SEND OFSTED inspection, which has the voice and needs of SEND children at its heart – you can read more about this in a separate update from Denise Banks, our engagement coordinator.
  • A joint position statement between health and education professionals and ESPCF on Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) is in the final stages of sign off
  • We are meeting with key health leads to ensure parent carer representation at a strategic level, with a particular focus on mental health - for example, contributing towards the development of a new schools mental health service.

We are also hoping to meet with all local MPs in the coming months to highlight areas of our work and to help them further understand the challenges faced by SEND families in East Sussex.

So, to answer the question posed at the start of this update: how did it go?

One thing we can say for sure is that the return to school experience (if your child or young person has gone back) cannot be summed up in one succinct sentence. Preparing for such a huge transition was always going to be a testing time, and families are running the full gamut of emotions.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll continue to listen and respond to our members’ experiences, and represent these to service providers. But to make a real difference, we need more parent carers to join us. If you can spare a minute, please fill in our really quick membership form – no other commitment is required. The more families we represent, the louder our collective voice, and the more likely we are to be heard and bring about positive change.

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