Published: 10:00, 01 December 2020
Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have been hit hard by lockdown, according to latest Ofsted report.
Despite 92% of Kent primary schools achieving a 'good' or 'outstanding' rating, children have seen their education negatively impacted in a number of ways since March.
With limited social contact and access to support services, many children with SEND who do not communicate verbally have seen their communication skills regress in lockdown.
Stephen Long, Ofsted’s director for the south east, said: "Across all age groups, children with special education needs and disabilities have been seriously affected in both their care and education, as the services that families relied on – particularly speech and language services – were unavailable.
"We have had reports that the lack of respite and support for families of children with highly complex needs has put a huge strain on families’ ability to cope."
Sarah Vaughan, from Canterbury, said her autistic and dyslexic son's school routine was completely turned upside-down by Covid-19 regulations.
Some support for the 12-year-old had to be taken away for safety - including access to other areas of the school for a quiet moment or staff he trusted.
The mother-of-three said: "We got to September and he was allowed to go back to school - he managed a day and a half. It was like a step back a million miles.
"He was ill straight away, he was not coping, he was anxious, wasn't sleeping and wasn't eating.
"For a person with autism it was just too much and he wasn't going to learn in that situation. I thought, I can't make him do this anymore. I had to have him signed off school by the GP with anxiety. He's fine at home and he's doing really well."
Parents have also been opting to home school children out of fears for their safety during the pandemic, according to over a third of schools visited by Ofsted. In Kent there was a 154% increase in home schooling registrations in September.
According to the report, this anxiety was fuelled by ‘fake news’ on social media, of which leaders expressed frustration at having to debunk.
The majority of schools have seen learning slip back as a result of lockdown, with an array of problems cropping up across different ages and groups.
Ofsted identified some previously potty trained children had lapsed back into nappies.
Older children lost physical fitness and reading and writing skills - with some displaying signs of distress such as self-harm and eating disorders.
The report acknowledges home learning often differs from the class curriculum and hasn't been easy for those with little access to technology and a quiet space at home.
However, statistics for Kent show 92% of primary schools and 87% of secondary schools achieved a 'good' or 'outstanding' rating, both slightly above the average for the south east.
Medway saw 88% of primary schools - below the south east average - and 94% of secondary schools achieve 'good' or 'outstanding.'
Though Kent's local authority children’s services achieved a 'good' rating, Medway was graded 'inadequate.' Medway is one of only four areas in the south east to be rated inadequate, with 15 others being rated higher.
Mr Long added: “It has been an extraordinarily challenging year. Today’s Annual Report highlights the incredible work those working in education and care are doing to teach, help and support children. But it also highlights the worrying impact of COVID.
“Undoubtedly, teachers have been working incredibly hard to help children catch up on the learning they have lost. But the education gap has worryingly got wider since schools were closed in March.
“While home schooling can be a positive decision for some families, not all can offer high quality education, and it can also make it harder to detect signs of abuse, neglect or exploitation.
“The pandemic has created huge strains and challenges, but it has also brought communities closer together. So, I want to thank all those who are working to support, care and teach our children and young people in these very difficult times."