Diagnosing special educational needs (SEN) in children

Diagnosing special educational needs (SEN) in children

        

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It can be initially challenging to diagnose an SEN, as well as for parents to receive this news. However, a diagnosis should be seen in a positive light as it can help you understand your child better and make adjustments for them to be happier.

Diagnosing special educational needs (SEN) in children

Special educational needs (SEN) are not always easy to identify. SEN is spotted early on in some children, but in others, it might not be diagnosed until they are older. A later diagnosis could be picked up if a child has experienced problems in their personal or academic lives.

What makes a diagnosis difficult is that many of the characteristics of SEN can be put down to normal childhood because children develop at different rates. In general, parents tend to be the first person to spot any changes or differences in their children.

If you suspect your child might have SEN, this blog post is here to help. Here, we will cover what SEN is, how it is identified, and the steps you can take to get a diagnosis so you can help your child get the most out of education.

What are special educational needs?

Special educational needs can affect a young person’s ability to learn. A child has an SEN if they have a disability or learning problem that can make it more difficult for them to learn than other children of the same age.

If an SEN is spotted early on, children can receive additional support, and provisions can be made so they are not limited in any way.

Some signs of SEN in children include difficulties and frustration in the following:

Some examples of SEN are:

This is not an exhaustive list.

How are special educational needs identified in children?

Every child is different and will develop at a different pace. Not every child with the above characteristics will have SEN.

Early years settings like nurseries and schools have a responsibility to spot SEN. Healthcare professionals can also identify it. Your child might have special educational needs if they have a mental or physical impairment – including a learning difficulty, mental health issues and physical disability – that makes it harder for them to learn.

If a child has SEN, they might need extra help depending on their individual needs in the following areas:

Some children may only need additional support for a short time when at school, and others might need help throughout their school lives.

Diagnosing special educational needs (SEN) in children
A child with sensory processing challenges.

What steps can I take if I think my child has SEN?

If you are worried about your child’s behaviour or development, there are some steps you can take. Depending on what stage your child is at, you might wish to speak to your GP or the local council Information, Advice and Support (IAS) Service for advice about SEN and referral for assessment.

If your child is in school or nursery, it is advised that parents follow the steps below to voice their concerns:

Step 1: Speak to the teacher

Raise your concerns with the class teacher as early as you can. In this meeting, you can tell them how your child is coping and provide examples of where you believe they are struggling. The teacher may wish to share anything they have noticed and make suggestions for the support available to move forward.

Step 2: Meet with the Senco

Every school has a SEN Coordinator (SENCo) who ensures that special needs provisions are met. If you or the school is concerned about the progress your child is making, then a meeting with the SENCo will be arranged.

You can talk about whether the SENCo feels your child has SEN and the support the school can provide in response. Take note of everything discussed and agreed upon in the meeting so you can keep track of your child’s progress. If it is necessary, you can request that the school arrange assessments from specialists like a Speech and Language Therapist or an Educational Psychologist. The support your child receives at school should be regularly reviewed in line with their progress.

Meeting the Senco
Meeting the SENCo should be a priority.

Step 3: Education, Health and Care Needs Assessment

If your child is not progressing with additional SEN support through their school, you can apply to the local authority for an Education, Health and Care needs assessment. This application can be made by yourself or the school.

If the school does not agree to a further assessment, you can go private with an educational psychologist report, which costs around £500.

In the application, you will need to:

The local authority will assess your child to see if they have or may have SEN and outline what provision may need to be taken.

The assessment will determine if your child needs extra provision through an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). If an ECHP is issued, it will outline the budget for the additional support provided.

If an EHCP isn’t granted, you can appeal it.

How long does the process take?

Special educational needs (SEN) can be diagnosed at any time. Some children are diagnosed when they are born, while others are diagnosed at school. For some, it could be years before diagnosis, and others may never get one. If you make a formal request for assessment, the Education Authority must make a decision within six weeks.

Are there different processes for diagnosing different special educational needs?

Diagnosis for SEN usually starts with a referral from the school or your GP. After this, the above steps are taken. For some diagnoses it can be helpful to talk to SEN specialists in that particular area, however, this is only after seeing an educational psychologist.

It can take time to adjust to a SEN diagnosis. However, it is essential to ensure your child gets the help and support they need to get the most out of their education. A diagnosis should be looked at in a positive light as it can help you to understand your child’s condition better and celebrate the progress they make towards their goal and adjusting to their diagnosis. With the proper diagnosis and support in place, you can watch your child’s motivation and confidence around school grow.

Get in touch

We hope this blog was helpful. Please feel free to get in touch with us should you have any questions about support for your child. We enjoy talking with parents and helping our students by tailoring learning to their individual needs.


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What is an EHCP and how to get one

Woman frustrated with EHCP

        

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We discuss EHCPs and EHC needs assessments and consider what the law says one is entitled to. We also cover when the process is delayed or refused and offer sources of help.

All about EHCPs

Many anxious parents ask for our help with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs). 

We hope to help parents of children with special educational needs (SEN) by covering the main aspects of EHCPs in this blog.

Woman frustrated with EHCP
The EHCP journey can be challenging. Don't be afraid to seek help.

What is an EHCP?

An EHCP or Education, Health and Care Plan assists children and young people (aged up to 25) who have SEN, including disabilities. The government introduced these plans in 2014. They are used to improve the outcomes for children that require extra support and assistance in the current school system. 

EHCPs bring each aspect of health, social care, and education together to promote the best outcomes for children and young people. They replace the previous statement of special educational needs.

A child or young person requires an Education, Health and Care (EHC) needs assessment to gain an EHCP. Local authorities (LAs) write these assessments.

Who can get an EHCP?

EHCP’s are available to children and young people up to 25 with SEN, whose needs cannot reasonably be provided through available resources at an early years provider, school or post-16 institution. Most children and young people with SEN are not expected to need an EHCP.

SEN definition

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice (the “Code”) defines special educational needs (SEN) as follows:

A child or young person has SEN if they have a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for him or her.

A child of compulsory school age or a young person has a learning difficulty or disability if he or she:

To also read more about SEN and SEND definitions, please have a look at this popular blog: What does SEN or SEND really mean?

What is the process for getting an EHCP?

A parent initiates the process by approaching their local authority (LA) with a request for an EHCP. The LA has 6 weeks to determine whether to advance the process by carrying out an EHC needs assessment. In considering whether an EHC needs assessment is necessary, the LA should consider whether there is evidence that despite the educational setting having taken relevant steps to meet the child’s needs, expected progress has not been made.

Note that young people over the age of 16 and certain other professionals, for example, a teacher, can also initiate the EHCP process.

The LA will determine whether or not an individual needs an EHC plan in place by carrying out an EHC needs assessment.

The EHC needs assessment may not result in an EHCP being issued. In this case, the report may decide that the child’s school or college can meet their needs without one.

What is an EHC needs assessment?

An EHC needs assessment is the first step to securing an EHCP, following a request for an EHCP.  The process of an EHC needs assessment involves collating information and advice on a child or young person’s needs. Your LA carries this out.  A school or college cannot undertake the assessment or ask for payment for any part of it.

There is a list of information required to be set out in Regulation 6(1) of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014. This includes:

If your child is hearing or speech impaired, you should seek advice from a qualified person.

If following an EHC needs assessment, it is necessary for special educational provision to be made through an EHCP, the LA must prepare one.

How long does it take to get an EHCP?

The process from the first request to a completed EHCP should take no longer than 20 weeks (other than in exceptional circumstances). A draft EHCP should be issued within 14 weeks to allow 15 days for a parent to study the draft and request a school or education provider to be named in it. The party named also has 15 days within which to respond to it being named in the EHCP.

The LA must respond within 6 weeks of an EHCP request to advise whether it believes an EHC needs assessment is necessary.

If following an EHC needs assessment, the LA determines not to issue an EHCP, it has 16 weeks from the EHCP request date to inform parents.

See a useful summary of the EHCP timeline below:

EHCP Process
Process for EHC application with statutory timescales (source: the Code)

What can I do if my child’s EHC needs assessment or EHCP is delayed or refused?

Delays

If your assessment is delayed, contact the LA to enquire about the reasons for the delay. If they fail to provide an explanation, contact your local SENDIASS (SEND Information Advice and Support Service) to seek advice.

The LA must send a draft plan within 14 weeks of the request for assessment and the completed EHCP within 20 weeks of the initial request. If it fails to do so, you may write a complaint addressed to the most senior person at the LA.

Refused EHC needs assessment

If a child or young person has or may have SEN and it may be necessary to have a special educational provision made in an EHCP, they are entitled to an EHC needs assessment, regardless of the level of attainment.  If the LA refuses the request for an EHC needs assessment, the parent or young person has the right to appeal to the First-tier Tribunal.

When considering an appeal from a parent or young person, the First-tier Tribunal must consider the Code. The tribunal will expect LAs and educational settings to explain any relevant departure from the Code.

Refused EHCP (following an EHC needs assessment)

The LA should give reasons for refusal. It should also inform parents of the right to appeal this decision and the timeline for doing so. Appeals are made in the SEND Tribunal under section 51(2)(a) of the Children and Families Act.

Before an appeal, it is advisable to speak to a mediation advisor. The LA refusal letter should include the advisor’s information. You should get a certificate to show you have done so. You can contact IPSEA (Independent Provider of Special Education Advice) to ask them how to prepare for the mediation process. The deadline by which the SEND Tribunal must receive your appeal is two months from the date of the LA letter or one month from a mediation certificate.

You should state reasons for the appeal in your form and collect supporting evidence for your case. Such evidence can include teachers’ comments, documentation from school, previous assessments, advice from educational psychologists, or your own observations. This evidence can support your case that the appropriate educational help for your child relies on the provision of an EHCP and that without it, the child’s needs are unlikely to be met. You should submit the form as soon as possible. More information, together with email templates for information requests to build your case, can be found here.

How long does an EHC plan last?

Once received, an EHCP is reviewed annually to determine further needs or modifications to the plan.

A review meeting is organised between everyone involved in the child or young person’s education, including someone from the LA’s SEN department. The school may also invite other people, such as a speech and language therapist, advisory teacher, tutor or teaching assistant. The meeting will consider the progress made and include any recommendations for changes to the plan alongside setting targets. This process may also determine whether the child or young person still requires an EHCP.

The LA has 4 weeks following this meeting to make decisions based on the recommendations. It could either make amendments, leave it as it is, or end the plan.

What kind of support does an EHCP provide?

Personal budget

When you have an EHCP, your LA will set out the funding for your child, which is called a personal budget. Personal budgets are typically arranged with the school, and money is paid directly to them to provide extra support and assistance in the school setting. Extra provision is generally delivered by one-to-one in-person support or via online tuition. Additional help is available at all curriculum levels from Reception to A-Level.

The personal budget is an amount of money that covers the cost of implementing the support and outcomes, as noted in the plan. This money is not available unless you have an EHCP.

Direct payment

In some cases, LA’s may make direct payments to parents or caregivers to arrange this provision independently. The LA may determine which of the money to issue as a direct payment. Still, they can refuse this request if they deem the provision cannot be met appropriately. A refusal can also happen if the direct payment negatively affects other services provided by the EHCP.

Selecting an education provider

Parents have the right to choose an education provider to carry out the plan. They have the option to select a third-party provider that aligns with the EHCP and who can support them. This is a crucial part of the Code, which provides parents with a greater say in their child’s education and resource allocation. 

Bright Heart Education currently acts as an LA-approved education provider for some of its students’ EHCPs. Consequently, we can support parents during their difficult journey and in delivering the plans.

You can arrange direct payment by your LA to the educational provider as agreed in the plan. 

special needs support
An EHCP paves the way for funding and support for your child

What are the different parts of an EHCP?

The EHCP must follow the code set out by Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014. The plan must include specific sections, and if the child is in Year 9 or above, this plan must also contain strategies to help them prepare for adult life and independent living.

An EHCP must contain the following sections:

There is a legal requirement to keep everything in each section separate so that the provision of funding is clear. Section F of the EHCP is critically important, as it determines the key area of the provision. If this section is unclear, it may cause delays to funding or, in some cases, it may mean support is not received.

Checking a draft EHCP

When you receive a draft EHCP, it is essential to check the details and communicate any issues within 15 days.  It is crucial to ensure that the special educational provision in Section F meets all the needs outlined in Section B.

If you are not happy with any aspect of the plan, you can ask for areas to be changed, but only if you have a draft EHCP or an upcoming review. If a child or young person’s circumstances change dramatically (such as if they get worse and need additional provision), you can request an early annual review or a re-assessment of their needs. 

Where can I find advice and support to help me get an EHCP for my child?

Bright Heart's livestream - 'All about EHCPs'

EHCP topics covered on the livestream


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Homeschooling tips for students with dyspraxia

DR Ryan Stevenson - Home Learning Tips and Advice

        

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A livestream event was held this month by the Dyspraxia Foundation. One of our directors was a guest and covered homeschooling tips and general organisation for school pupils and university students.

Livestream with the Dyspraxia Foundation -
Home learning: tips and advice

Dr Ryan Stevenson, Bright Heart’s co-founder, was the Dyspraxia Foundation’s featured guest on a Livestream Q and A. This was hosted by Claire Cripps, the Youth Information Officer, earlier this month. The event was held as the Dyspraxia Foundation was inundated with queries asking for help for homeschooling and how students can manage their own work online. 

Students with dyspraxia may struggle with executive functioning and organisation, so the lockdown does pose additional challenges with their own online learning.

We have summarised key questions below so you can find the right place of interest in this video.

DR Ryan Stevenson - Home Learning Tips and Advice
Click on the picture to watch the video discussing home learning tips

The Dyspraxia Foundation also created a list of resources to help their members. Some of these were covered in the livestream. Here is the free download.

 

What has been your experience with homelearning and how have you been managing your day?

We would love to hear about it on our Facebook page. Alternatively, feel free to get in touch with us to speak to one of our education specialists and find out how an experienced Bright Heart special needs tutor could help you or your child manage learning at home.


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What does SEN mean?

Boy raising his hand in classroom

        

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The terms SEN and SEND are used often. Here we discuss what they mean, considering ‘neurodiverse’ and ‘neurotypical’ brains along with the 4 broad areas of needs. 

What does SEN or SEND really mean?

For parents who have children in school or who are just looking into taking on the mantle of homeschooling, there’s a great deal to learn, and it can feel overwhelming, more so when it comes to technical language.

If your child has been given the label “SEN” or “SEND” by the school, you may be wondering what exactly it is and what it will mean for your child throughout their education and into their adulthood. In very simple terms, SEN stands for Special Educational Needs. In contrast, SEND means Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. While it may feel like SEN and SEND are the same thing, and there are many times where SEN and SEND are used interchangeably, this is not right.

The key difference is that SEND is for children (and adults) who have specific disabilities, whether or not they have special educational needs. It is common for children with disabilities to have extra educational needs, but not all disabled children fit into the SEN category.

Does SEN always mean the child has disabilities?

This is a tricky topic to explain in one article, but no, SEN does not always mean disabilities.  However, many of the special educational needs that students have may also be classed as a disability, even though it doesn’t fit into our traditional perceptions of what a ‘disability’ is.

To be classed as having a disability, there must be a significant and long-term impact on the day-to-day life of the person concerned. Where the needle falls is very different for each person, but there are many disabilities recognised by the Equalities Act 2010 that fall into the SEN category.

Learning disabilities, like dyslexia, are counted as disabilities because the impacts of dyslexia are recognised across a child’s life and even into adulthood. Traditionally, this has been seen as a negative, but there are many outspoken advocates for people with learning difficulties, which is changing perceptions and changing the language.

The phrase ‘learning difficulty’ is being replaced with ‘learning difference’ in some educational settings because it’s more descriptive of disabilities like dyslexia.

What is classed as SEN in a school setting?

In an educational setting like school, homeschool, or tutoring, SEN can cover a wide variety of educational difficulties or differences.

It’s important to note that a difference and a difficulty are not always the same thing. When students are assessed for special educational needs, it’s vital to find out how they learn and how they can be assisted to learn. For parents and educators alike, this can be the difference between education being ‘difficult’ and education being ‘different’.

Some examples of special educational needs currently recognised in UK schools and tutoring include:

Boy raising his hand in classroom
It is important to cater lessons and learning to individuals in classrooms.

Neurodiverse and neurotypical brains

If your child has been diagnosed with one special educational need, there is a high chance that they may also qualify for a diagnosis for other needs too. For example, those children who are diagnosed with ADHD are more than 60% likely to also be diagnosed with ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder). There is also a good chance that the child may also be living with a specific learning difficulty too, the most common being dyslexia.

The reason why children are at higher risk of having two or more medical conditions is not currently very well established in medical literature. However, it seems to be the difference between neurotypical and neurodivergent brains. Neurotypical brains are what we don’t like to call ‘normal’ brains (in truth, no one is ‘normal’) – they would be the people in the class who react to stimuli in the way in which we’d expect them to. They are usually able to regulate their emotions and their attention more easily.

Neurodiverse, or neurodivergent, brains are the rest of the children in the class. It’s not simply a case of neurodivergent being the opposite to neurotypicals, but there are key differences that make teaching neurodivergent students more challenging for some (and more interesting for others!).

purple flower
Students who think and perceive differently have much to offer the world.

How teaching / tutoring SEN students is different

SEN students require a different teaching / tutoring approach from your average student and, in most cases, they will need a different lifestyle approach too, to help them reach their full potential.

It’s vital that both parents and educators learn to understand the different learning styles so as to adapt lessons and home life to the needs of the child in front of them rather than the ‘typical’ child. This is not easy for a standard classroom teacher to do, but as homeschooling parents and tutors, we can offer our children the very best opportunities to learn by adjusting lessons and learning time to suit their needs and their abilities.

It is important to note that many students with SEN are not ‘unable’ to do their work. In fact, many are just as intelligent on a cognitive scale, and some even more so than their neurotypical peers. It’s just a case of finding out how they learn so that we can best embrace that.

A dyslexic student example

Take a dyslexic student, for example. Traditionally, dyslexic students have found reading difficult. For a long time, it was thought that the actual act of reading was hard for dyslexics, but after years of research, it was discovered that many dyslexics suffer from Meares–Irlen Syndrome, a condition that affects the processing of words on a page.

Black decorated letters (even serif fonts like Times New Roman) on a white page can be very challenging, but the simple act of changing the font to a sans-serif font and changing the background colour to one the child is comfortable with can make a world of difference. Equally, learning with phonics and the Latin roots to words has been shown to really improve the spelling issues many dyslexic students face, allowing them to work out the spelling from logical theory.

Oliver Twist novel
Black font on a light background with dense paragraphs (Oliver Twist), is difficult for students with dyslexia.

Many dyslexic students are much better at processing images and auditory learning and, as tutors, we can use this to our advantage by using video and audiobooks to help the child access learning.

With both the language and processing difficulties of the average dyslexic student, simple changes in the way we approach learning can mean the difference between a child who is chronically undermotivated and has low self-esteem, and a child who is supported with their learning, their abilities, and has access to materials in a way that works for them.

For all SEN students, there is a way to help them learn. While schools may prefer to go down the route of trying to make them learn the school way, as tutors, we prefer to take the approach of helping the student to find their own way of learning and using that to get the best out of them.

Toe by Toe
Toe By Toe is a small book designed for anyone who finds reading difficult.

The four broad areas of SEN

When thinking about SEN from an educational aspect, there are four main areas that educators will consider. These areas are the parts of a child’s life that will be impacted the most by their specific learning differences and educational need. They include:

In broad terms, all students will have some kind of special educational need or requirement. All children and all people are different; we have different interests and different strengths. When we do the work to recognise those strengths and work with them, we can have a big impact on both our lives and the lives of our students.

What has been your experience embracing the way your child learns to help them achieve?

We would love to hear about it on our Facebook page. Alternatively, feel free to get in touch with us to speak to one of our education specialists and find out how an experienced Bright Heart special needs tutor could help embrace your child’s unique learning style.


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Questions (FAQ) about learning, schools and exams during lockdown

GCSE and A Level exams cancelled

In part 2 of our lockdown blog series, one of our directors provides answers to some common questions.    

SEN agency director & education specialist

In part 2 of this blog series I address common questions students and parents have at this time.

Questions (FAQ) about learning, schools and exams during lockdown

The unprecedented actions of the government have left parents with many unanswered questions. In this, the second blog in a 3-part series, I attempt to answer some frequently asked questions (FAQ) about the consequences of the lockdown on education in the UK.

We attempt to provide guidance on some of these questions below and seek to address concerns where possible. This is based on current government guidance about lockdown / COVID-19, although it should be noted that things may change at short notice. If anything is unclear, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me or one of Bright Heart’s other directors.

Can I still get tutoring for my child when the UK is effectively in lockdown?

Lockdown does not mean that schools have ceased to provide education to our children, as assignments are still pouring in and deadlines have to be met. Students no longer have the benefit of direct contact with teachers or peers, however.  Thus, many parents are seeking tutoring to help their families with the added pressure while still respecting the government orders of social distancing.  

Parents have a right to get some help for their children, with many tuition agencies now offering online tutoring. Some tuition agencies are still able to offer in-person tuition in limited circumstances.  Face-to-face lessons are approved by the government for students who are considered vulnerable, in situations where online tuition is not a viable option.

In this regard, the Department for Education classify the following children as vulnerable:

“Vulnerable children include those who have a social worker and those with education, health and care (EHC) plans.

Children who have a social worker include children in need, children who have a child protection plan and those who are looked after by the local authority. We will work with schools, early years, FE providers and local authorities to help identify the children who most need support at this time.”

Read more information about vulnerable children here.

Read more information about the closure of schools here.

How do I keep my child busy and still manage to work from home during lockdown?

We are sensitive to the challenges that are being faced by many parents who are trying to juggle work at home and helping children learn at the same time. To help you cope with these challenges, we have gathered a number of recommended activities and resources that address both the academic and emotional/social needs of your children, including our own top 10 recommendations, found in the first blog of this series. We have also written earlier about some fun activities for children here.

At the same time, despite the benefits of following a daily routine, child psychologists warn that parents should still leave some room for flexibility to avoid pursuing an over-controlled environment. This may lead to more stress and anxiety in children. It is therefore crucial to maintain a healthy balance, which can be achieved through the understanding of your child’s wants and needs. 

Mother walking with her child through a forest
Taking some time for a break in Nature can do much to alleviate stress.

Should I give my child an extended break, now that their GCSE or A level exams have been cancelled?

This period of lockdown and school closures will have a substantial impact on children’s education, as stated by the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Prof. Chris Whitty. While many children will celebrate this break from school and welcome respite from the anxiety of preparing for exams, the required levels of education needed for Key Stages 1 to 5 and university (Further Education), will not be changing. Parents therefore need to carefully consider the impact this 3-month period (potentially 6 months until September) will have on their children’s education.

Results will be given by the end of July, based on prior attainment such as mock exams, non-exam assessments and other criteria.  However, if students deem their grades unsatisfactory or not a true reflection of their proficiency, they may appeal and take an exam during the next academic year.  

The lockdown period may lead to a highly detrimental period of inactivity.  Keeping your children busy is crucial if they wish to retain their competitive advantage when they go back to school.

We encourage students to use this time wisely, for example, by focussing on core subjects such as Maths and English, as well as areas of improvement that are important for their future studies and / or career paths.

GCSE and A Level exams cancelled
Students and teachers will need to consider what will be the most effective path with exams being cancelled

Will a GCSE student struggle at A level in the same subject?

Most schools are in revision mode for their GCSE syllabi by the time they reach February. This means students should have covered the required material; however, the level of testing of their knowledge will only be based on internal tests and mock exams. Students and teachers use the latter to get an indication of their readiness and to see where further revision is required. This means the usually intense revision and focus, as well as the opportunity to iron out any conceptual gaps, will be left out for this cohort of students. To miss this period will put students at a disadvantage and it remains to be seen how this is accommodated at the start of A levels.

What does it mean for Y10 GCSE students?

Year 10 students cover important material from February to June (or July) so there will be a substantial impact on their education. It is likely that schools and teachers will consider this in September (Year 11) to help them catch up. However, doing no schoolwork for possibly 6 months will affect retention and practice of concepts. Work potentially provided by schools for homeschooling over this period will also need oversight by parents and / or a tutor. We would recommend that parents take a proactive approach during this time to ensure their children maintain their level of education – see our blog covering 7 homeschooling tips. Another avenue of support is through online tuition  – see more about this in part 3 of our blog series.

It is important to maintain learning and revision during the lockdown period
It is important to maintain learning and revision during the lockdown period

What will happen regarding GCSE and A level exam marks?

GCSE, A level and AS level students will be awarded a grade by Ofqual which reflects their current school performance. There will be an option to sit an exam early in the next academic year for students who are not happy with this awarded grade. The exam boards will be asking teachers, who know their students well, to submit their judgement about the grade that they believe the student would have received if exams had gone ahead.

To effect this, teachers will consider a range of evidence and data, including performance on mock exams and non-exam assessments – clear guidance on how to do this fairly and robustly will be provided to schools and colleges. The exam boards will then combine this information with other relevant data, including prior attainment, and use this information to produce a calculated grade for each student, which will be a best assessment of the work they have put in.

The plan is to provide these calculated grades to students by the end of July. In terms of a permanent record, the grades will be no different from those provided in other years. The distribution of grades will follow a similar pattern to that in other years, so that this year’s students do not face an inherent disadvantage due to the current circumstances.

For some students, producing extra course material and assignments will be better than facing the anxiety of exams. However, some schools have already started planning for a mock exam in the summer term (should schools reopen) to provide further evidence of their students’ grades. Click here for more details about grading policies.

What will happen with International Baccalaureate exams?

IB exams will be cancelled for the first time in their history. Assessment scores will be considered, using predictive analytics tools and engaging the 15,000 examiners. The IB intends to release results as planned on 5 July. All student coursework and associated predicted grades will need to be uploaded by 20 April, if not sooner, in order to guarantee delivery of results by 5 July.

For further details regarding International Baccalaureate exams please click here.

International Baccalaureate

My child is not interested in doing Maths or Science for A levels – is there still a need to get to grips with the rest of the GCSE curriculum, now that a guaranteed grade is being offered?

Most schools would have covered the GCSE curriculum, so they should not be covering any new content by February of this academic year. However, students who know already that they would like to do a numerical or scientific related discipline at university should take stock of any concepts that they did find tricky. This may mean doing some revision during the lockdown period. For many students who did not enjoy these subjects, this will be a welcome relief. 

exam revision
Students will need to take stock of possible gaps and how this could affect their education journey.

Is there any news from universities?

University representatives have confirmed that they expect universities to be flexible and do all they can to support students and ensure they can progress to higher education. In general, the government’s stance is to ensure affected students can move on as planned to the next stage of their lives, including going into employment, starting university, college or sixth form courses, or an apprenticeship in the autumn.

However, we do advise those students who have chosen their university course to examine the module requirements if they did not complete their A level syllabus in the associated discipline.

Cambridge University
Cambridge University is working to better understand the effects of exam cancellations on new applicants.

Should I still be sending my child with an EHC Plan to school during this period?

Children with education, health and care (EHC) plans, along with those who have a social worker, are classed as vulnerable (up to the age of 25).

Those with an EHC plan should be risk-assessed by their school or college in consultation with the local authority (LA) and parents. This is to determine whether they need to continue to be offered a school or college place to meet their needs, or whether they can safely have their needs met at home. This could include, if necessary, carers, therapists or clinicians visiting the home to provide any essential services. Many children and young people with EHC plans can safely remain at home.

Where parents are concerned about the risk of their child contracting COVID-19, the school or social worker should talk through these anxieties with the parent, following the advice set out by Public Health England.

Local authorities will work with trusts and education settings to ensure that settings are kept open, but in some cases this will not be possible. Local authorities and education settings will make the most appropriate arrangements and talk to parents about this. It may not always be possible for children to attend their usual setting in order to ensure that children and staff are kept safe.

How many hours a day should my child devote to academic activities until he or she goes back to school?

We are the first to recognise that each child has a unique learning style and will therefore devote a different number of hours to any given task.  There are, however, some general guidelines that can be followed, based on my own experience and various other experts:  

2-3 hours a day for EYFS and Key Stage 1

3-4 hours a day for Key Stages 2 and 3

5-8 hours a day for Key Stages 4 and 5

homeschooled boy
Homeschooling can be more effective than school contact time with the right support.

When do schools go back?

The short answer is that no clear date has been set and predicting one would be pure speculation on my part.

There was speculation in the Sunday Times (19 April) that senior ministers had drawn up a three-phase plan to lift the coronavirus lockdown that would see schools reopen as early as May 11. It was suggested that the first pupils invited back would include primary school children and those in years 10 and 12 who are due to sit GCSEs and A levels next year. However, Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, issued a statement shortly thereafter that he could not give a date for when schools will reopen.

The Department for Education (DfE) published a blog on 21 April addressing the question, entitled Schools reopening conditions. It explains that the general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), sent a letter to the Secretary of State setting out five conditions to be met before schools should reopen – including social distancing guidelines, access to PPE /  employment protections for teachers and a recognition of the “depleted” teacher workforce.

The DfE has also reiterated its position in the blog about the matter:

“Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has not set a date for schools reopening.

They will remain closed, except for children of critical workers and the most vulnerable children until the scientific advice changes, and we have met the five tests set out by Government to beat this virus.

We will work in close consultation with the sector to consider how best to reopen schools, nurseries and colleges when the time is right so that parents, teachers and children have sufficient notice to plan and prepare.”

With regards to the five tests that need to be passed in order to avoid a second peak of COVID-19, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has summarised them in the following manner: ‘First, that the NHS can continue to cope, second, that the operational challenges can be met, third, that the daily death rate falls sustainably and consistently, fourth, that the rate of infection is decreasing, and most importantly, that there is no risk of a second peak.’

Thus, reopening schools will be a slow and challenging process for all parties involved, under the principle that safety must come first.

What is Bright Heart doing to help during lockdown?

At Bright Heart, we have been closely monitoring developments with respect to the coronavirus (COVID-19) in order to keep our tutors, clients and students safe and well informed.

Our policy since early March has been to encourage the adoption of online tuition to ensure that our student’s one-to-one tuition is not disrupted during this period. We took the decision before Boris Johnson announced lockdown to require tutors to provide online tuition where possible and supported this adoption by offering clients a 10% discount for online tuition. The government does still permit in-person tuition where a student is described as vulnerable, for example, when a student has an EHC plan, but this is still only possible where the tutor is able to travel safely to the student’s home, and nobody in either the tutor’s or student’s household has any COVID-19 symptoms.

For those who are less familiar with online tuition, part 3 of this blog series discusses some of the pros and cons of online tuition and tips for parents using an online tutor.

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9 nifty activities to survive lockdown with your children

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It can be tricky to keep children entertained and focus on one’s own work. Here are some fun activities! 

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Need inspiration to keep your children entertained during lockdown? Here’s a roundup of 9 fun & easy activities.

9 nifty activities to survive lockdown with your children

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in an almost global lockdown to slow the spread of the virus. Schools are largely closed and many of us are working from home. This means that we’re spending a lot of time with our partners and/or children. It can be tricky to keep children entertained and focus on one’s own work. It’s easy to fall into the trap of letting children watch TV or scroll online for hours on end, but the little ones in particular are bound to become restless as the days go by.

Below are some fun activities you can do with your younger children (or allow your older children to do themselves) during lockdown:

Lockdown Idea #1

Children activities

Let your children paint numbers 1-1 on ordinary garden stones (or you can use prepared coloured cards).  Hide the numbers 1 to 10…around the garden or around the house and let them play Number Fun Hide ‘n Seek! (You can give younger children clues as to where to look that correspond to each number, for example:  “1 is hidden in or near an appliance that we have one of (e.g. the fridge) 2 is hidden in a room with two beds in it…” etc. ). This will also be a good practice for an Easter egg hunt for Sunday the 12th of April.

Lockdown Idea #2

Children activities

This will keep the kids calm for a little while – invite them to read or listen to an audio book in an easy, home-made under table hammock using blankets or sheets knotted above a sturdy tabletop as shown above.

Lockdown Idea #3

Children activities

Have a Lockdown Disco one evening – print tickets and invite your family to have some fun while you play DJ. Suggest each member of the family makes a half-hour playlist, dim the lights and get your groove on! Or try online dance classes and learn a routine.

Lockdown Idea #4

Children activities

Take virtual tours

The museums and art galleries may be closed but if your teenager wants to expand their horizons, there are now virtual tours of thousands of the world’s most important museums, including the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Guggenheim in New York. The tours are so good it’s like you are actually wandering through the corridors and you can zoom in to view any masterpieces you fancy. Look up the museums’ websites for more details. 

One such example is the National Videogame Museum. Your child can create a Pixel Art character or design their own arcade cabinet with these fun activities to play at home: https://www.thenvm.org/nvm-at-home

Lockdown Idea #5

fun coloured window with hearts

Order tissue paper from Amazon (or simply use any coloured paper you have on hand) and let your children cut these rainbow hearts out by hand. So worth it for adding a splash of brightness to windows and fun to make too!

Lockdown Idea #6

gardening for children

Grow a windowsill garden

Just because they are cooped up inside doesn’t mean children can’t keep learning about the natural world. Inspire a love of nature by helping them grow some easy flowers and veg. To get fast results, order cornflower or pot marigold seeds online, which germinate in as little as two weeks.

Alternatively, help them grow their own salad veg by planting quick-sprouting radishes or cress. A fruit carton, cut in half, with holes in the bottom or even an old welly boot will do the trick if you don’t have any pots. 

Lockdown Idea #7

Tiger in a office

The Animal Name Game exercises both body and mind. Each player should think of an animal and tell the others a fact about it.

The other players must try and guess the animal, with a maximum of three facts per person to guess.

Players should continue until the group has cycled through five animals each, taking inspiration from the outdoors where possible. For those in a flat, let the participant use Google animal 3D to search for the animal in Google and display it in augmented reality (AR) and let the others try and work out which animal they are looking at once they provide a fact.

Lockdown Idea #8

Children activities

Paper Crafts are simple and easy to make and these Moving Fish provide extra entertainment value (let the kids put on a puppet show for you afterwards to extend this activity) – older children can also help younger siblings with this activity. Watch the How To video here: https://youtu.be/UmZgsnY8fMQ

Lockdown Idea #9

Boys blowing bubbles

A fun activity in 5 minutes! All you need is a sock, plastic bottle and a bit of washing-up liquid with water to help while away hours engaged in sensory play in the fresh air or even blow bubbles out of your flat window. Credit to #TheDadLab

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Homeschooling your child with special educational needs: pros and cons

homeschooled boy

We outline some typical pros and cons to be aware of for parents considering homeschooling their child with SEN.

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Considering homeschooling your child with Special Educational Needs (SEN)? We outline the potential advantages and disadvantages…

Homeschooling your child with special educational needs: pros and cons

homeschooled boy
Homeschooling your child presents some unique opportunities and challenges

For parents considering homeschooling their child with special educational needs (SEN), we outline some typical pros and cons to be aware of.

Note that if your child attends a special school which was arranged by your local authority, you’ll need the council’s permission to homeschool your child. You do not need the council’s permission if your child attends a mainstream school, even if they have an education, health and care (EHC) plan.

Potential Advantages

1. Personalised, flexible learning

Homeschooling gives you the opportunity to create a tailor-made education for your child; one that suits his or her unique learning needs.

2. One-to-one teaching is very effective

Your homeschooled child can make more progress with less teaching time when they are supported with one-to-one teaching; a school day’s worth of learning may take place within two hours of focused teaching. A tutor is an ideal way to incorporate this support. This also applies to online tutoring if this is an option you wish to explore with your tutor.

3. Fewer distractions in a home setting

With no noise or distraction from classmates, which can sometimes negatively impact on your child’s concentration and performance, a home setting provides the distinct advantage of a focused environment

4. Application of learning into everyday life

From cooking to paying the household bills, to budgeting, and dealing with challenges, a key strength of homeschool learning is the way that children can learn to apply what they are learning to real life. With this relevance, learning takes on a whole new meaning, going from simply absorbing different pieces of information to developing fundamental skills to survive successfully in the future.

5. Freedom from peer pressure and bullying

When teaching your child at home, you don’t have to be as concerned about the harmful effects of peer pressure or the devastating effects of bullying. Your child will be assured of a safe and secure environment in which to learn and focus on growing into a happy, confident individual.

6. More organised and/or structured socialisation

Since socialisation will have to be more organised and/or structured, a home-schooled child can meet people who share their interests and hobbies rather than merely their age, and have the opportunity to get involved with a range of extra-curricular activities.

Potential Disadvantages

1. Homeschooling is a significant time commitment

Any parent leading a homeschooling education for their child with SEN will likely have to make a significant time commitment, especially if their child’s needs are more complex. The parent(s) will need to carry out a myriad of tasks. Tasks can include organising and teaching lessons, making a timetable, preparing visits, resources and field trips, joining local homeschooling groups, and making plenty of arrangements with other homeschooled children and/or extra-curricular activities for socialisation.

2. The cost

While a home education will tend to be cheaper than paying fees at a private school, parents who opt to homeschool their children will incur additional costs compared to a state school education. Parents may need to hire private tutors to help, which can be expensive, depending on the amount of tutoring required. If a parent has to give up his or her job to become a homeschool teacher, there are also high costs in terms of lost earnings.

3. Lack of teaching diversity and specialised skills

A homeschooled child will not usually have opportunities to learn from such a diverse range of skilled backgrounds as are found in a school setting, with specialist teachers and advisors. This is especially true if a child has special educational needs and requires expert teaching and care.

4. Reduced socialisation opportunities

Whilst a parent may welcome the chance to better direct their child’s interaction with other children, homeschooled children will generally have less opportunity to socialise with their peers. This does require parent’s to be proactive in making suitable arrangements to keep their homeschooled child engaged with other children.

5. Less structured routine

Attending school provides a structured routine for children, with a set timetable and school hours. A drawback of homeschooling can be this loss of routine, depending on how the homeschooling is structured.

Potential advantages and disadvantages depend to a large extent on you and your child’s unique circumstances and how you envisage providing your child with a home education. Making use of a suitably qualified tutor to complement a parent’s homeschooling efforts can make a significant difference to a child’s educational journey.

An experienced tutor will not only support you as a parent and free up some of your time, but is also a worthwhile, cost-effective investment in supporting your child with special educational needs as they learn. With the right tutor, you can enjoy the benefits of homeschooling, with less of the drawbacks. Get in touch with us today for your obligation-free consultation.

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Holiday tips for parents of a child with SEN

the festive season with families

Help keep the whole family happy during the festive season with these practical tips.                                                           

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The festive season can bring many expectations. We look at how to keep smiling and enjoy this time with your children.

Holiday Tips for Parents of a Child with SEN

Christmas crowds, lights, smells and lack of routine can make the holidays a challenging time for children with special educational needs. Help keep the whole family happy during the festivities with these practical tips on how to survive it with your sense of humour and festive cheer intact.

the festive season with families
Holidays can be stressful, but they're also the perfect time of year to reflect and celebrate small victories.

1. If you're travelling

Travelling with a child with additional needs at any time of year can be difficult. Holiday travel can be even more stressful. A few ways to make journeys easier for children with SEN include:

Make a list of your child’s favourite toys and accessories on which to rely for a Special Educational Needs Holiday Toolkit. This may include noise cancelling headphones, sensory toys such as fidget spinners, weighted toys (especially for children with sensory processing challenges) and any other particular favourite toys.  It’s also advisable to travel with a supply of your child’s favourite foods and snacks in order to overcome any unexpected food challenges.  You may find a tablet or personal gaming device handy for limited screen time as well.

2. Visit the local library

While it may not sound like the most exciting place for a holiday outing, for children with special educational needs, the quiet and less crowded library makes for a great option where you can spend a few hours together. At some libraries you may even find games which are appropriate for your child. 

3. Stay home and get crafty

Stay home and bake cookies, make paper garlands, cut snowflakes, or otherwise have crafty fun with your child. If you need to do most of the work, that’s ok. We suggest a number of projects that can be completed in a few hours with minimal fuss – scroll through our Facebook or Instagram pages for ideas. 

This is also an important way to not only connect with your child at this special time of year, but also to keep them occupied in a stimulating way that inspires confidence and feelings of success and accomplishment. These exercises are a tool for helping your child stay mentally engaged during the time off from school and tutoring.

4. Worry less about age-appropriate experiences

Many children with special educational needs are “younger than their years.”  A 12-year-old with special educational needs may for example, still get a big kick out of holiday-themed Thomas the Tank Engine toys or a visit with Santa.

Consider choosing a few toys and experiences that will resonate with your child even if they’re really intended for younger children. After all, many adults still love watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and How the Grinch Stole Christmas

5. Communicate expectations

Communication is a big factor in successful holiday survival with a child with special educational needs. Communicate with your child what will be happening during their holiday so that they feel secure and prepared.

Share with the family and friends you may be visiting what your needs are. For example, let them know if your child needs downtime and may not be able to participate in some of the usual family activities. Communicate with them ahead of time if your child can only tolerate a certain amount of time at a gathering. Let them know you may need to retreat to your room or back to your hotel and may miss part of the celebration.

If you are travelling as a family or entertaining during the holidays, communicate with your partner or spouse what the plan and expectations are. Will you stay for an allotted time and leave at that time regardless? Or do you prefer to watch for those signs special needs parents recognise that it might be time to go (or wind down a party)?

6. Be gentle with yourself and your child

It’s normal to feel frustrated when a child with special educational needs doesn’t seem to “get” the holidays or appreciate what you do to make the season special. It can be equally difficult to endure the stares and comments of well-meaning family and friends who simply might not understand why your child isn’t appropriately happy and engaged.

Whilst you cannot change the behaviour or feelings of other people, you can change your own.

To make the holidays easier for everyone (including you):

·         Remember that the holidays aren’t for garnering praise or appreciation; they’re for building relationships and memories (and, for some people, for remembering the religious significance of Christmas). If you’re able to remember even a few special moments when the holidays are done, you’ve succeeded.

·         Give yourself permission to walk away from difficult situations. While some extended families and friends can be wonderful with children with special educational needs, others…aren’t. If your family falls into the latter category, it’s ok to cut a visit short. You’re under no obligation to stick with an unpleasant situation.

·         Get support when you need it. Maybe you really need to attend a carols evening, a church service, or a special party even if your child can’t or won’t. There’s nothing wrong with asking for a little respite care from those in your support network so that you can have the experience that you need in order to recharge and remember why the holidays are special.

 

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