Yesterday in the House of Commons the Coronavirus Bill had its second reading. See below for points made in reference to children, education, SEND children and EHC plans. While there were quite a few concerns raised in relation to vulnerable children with EHC plans, the Government did not respond directly to them. The AEP will continue to track the Bill’s progress.
The full discussion can be found here.
The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, said that the Bill “empowered” schools to “respond pragmatically” to the situation, by taking measures such as changing teacher ratios, adapt school meals standards as well as “temporarily relax provisions for those with special educational needs”.
The Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Jon Ashworth, said that while the parents of SEND children would understand the need for flexibility during this period, they were “also extremely nervous that they could see the erosion of hard-fought rights of disabled children and young people, children and young people with special educational needs, and their families”. He said that the Bill, by allowing the Government to change section 42 of the Children and Families Act 2014, would mean that such children would no longer have rights enshrined in law, and would need to rely on public bodies taking only “reasonable endeavours” to ensure their needs were met. He said that this would “set a low bar”.
Zarah Sultana (Lab, Coventry South) said that the Bill would impact people with disabilities and “weaken” the duties to meet children’s educational requirements. She said that while coronavirus presented “huge challenges” it could not be “an excuse” to abandon disabled people or erode their rights.
Ruth Jones (Lab, Newport West) demanded that the Bill be examined with regard to additional needs. She said that as things stand it would remove the rights of people with disabilities to access care homes on their own terms and that the duty to educate SEND children had been modified only to require local authorities to “make reasonable endeavours”. She said that it “cannot be right” that legislation “intended to do the most good will inadvertently affect the most vulnerable in our society”.
Peter Aldous (Con, Waveney) said that the Government must “guard against unintended consequences” of the Bill, such as how it may disadvantage disabled and vulnerable children and adults, potentially putting their lives at risk. He voiced concerns about possible delays to the carrying out of assessments for NHS continuing care and the suspension of children’s education, health care (EHC) plans.
Nick Thomas-Symonds (Lab, Torfaen) said that “legal minimums of support should not be a default” and that those with special educational needs must have the care they need and those with disabilities must have their rights protected.