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Special educational needs and disabilities updates

Special educational needs and disabilities updates Summer Term 2020

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Special message about coronavirus

Read a message from Sal Thirlway, Assistant Director, Children's Services Learning, Achievement and Partnership on COVID-19 (PDF document) for parents and carers of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

Read, below, about the work the teams within the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities service is carrying out during the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Anita Davies, Transitions Team Manager has provided an update on the work that the Transition Team is doing during these challenging times:

The Transitions Team is working as usual while respecting the need for social distancing and/or shielding and is conducting visits only where necessary – whilst adhering to Government guidelines. Reviews and assessments are being conducted remotely where possible, including Self-directed Assessments, Mental Capacity Assessments and Deprivation of Liberty work.

The Team is taking personal needs and circumstances into consideration regarding Direct Payments and young people’s individual requirements. Transition Duty continues to work hard – responding daily to manage queries and Transition Social Workers are also working hard to aid individual allocated cases and provide support, as required. 

I am delighted to say that welfare checks have been made regularly for 18 to 25-year-old young people who we are working with in Transitions. Key workers with children who are shielding have also had their young people’s needs considered and are being supported via a bespoke solution. 

Consultation has also taken place regarding very vulnerable young people and their priority for support at school and college. Where residential support would normally be accessed but is not an option at present, care packages have been individually assessed and consideration has been given to the available options – we have found that needs are greater in relation to the current circumstances. 

Where a young person was not supported to go out, we have ensured extra Direct Payments were allocated to prevent them being at risk. 

We have been working closely with the Health Authority and it has been agreed that we will work on a case-by-case basis in some complex situations – we will be looking at a joint approach where appropriate. 

Our workers have provided a range of useful resources to our young people and their families, which has attracted some really positive feedback. This included easy read information to assist families supporting young people in these uncertain times.

Read the children with disabilities team useful resource list (pdf document)

Transitions recognises that this is a difficult time for young people and their carers and we are committed to doing all we can to effectively support them, in order to lessen anxiety and any feelings of isolation. To that end, Social Workers are using WhatsApp to support our ongoing interaction with some young people and, at times, we have helped source food parcels for families in need. 

I am incredibly proud of the high level service that my Team continues to deliver in these challenging circumstances. Any young person and their carer(s) with presenting needs continue to be fully supported.

Sendiass continue to operate as normal (remotely) and are available to give advice, to support at virtual meetings and to assist with Education, Health and Care Needs Assessments and Annual Reviews. We are able to talk through with parents and young  people where they have concerns about what is currently being provided in terms of home learning or access to school and, as the situation develops, about the return to school. We are picking up phone messages daily on our phone line but parents and young people can also email us, giving details of what help they need.

Over recent weeks we have been focussing on the information aspect of our service:

  • Working closely with the SEND, Children with Disabilities and Transitions teams and SEND Voices Wokingham to ensure there is good quality information available to families of children with SEND on the Local Offer and WBC website.
  • Establishing a social media presence to give parents and professionals information about what our service is doing as well as news and information about all things SEND related, both locally and nationally. In the short term it will ensure we can continue to give good quality, succinct information relating to SEND throughout this difficult time.

Follow us on our social media sites

New SENDIASS website coming

Our new website will be available within the next few weeks and more information will be added to this in the coming months. 

We are also considering the possibility of running our parent training courses online later in the term. 

Contact details 


The current lockdown period and circumstances with Corona virus has undoubtedly been a stressful time for everyone. At Optalis Supported Employment Service we have worked tirelessly to support our clients to understand what is happening, how this affects them with and provide employment support during the pandemic.

We have seen individuals who have been furloughed need extra guidance and support to remain stimulated and motivated whilst remaining at home, ensured individuals who are still looking for work continue to move close to the employment market by undertaking remote training, interview practice and applications where appropriate. For our clients who have needed additional support, we have devised and sent out bespoke employment workbooks, which not only give structure, purpose and achievement to our clients, but also enable them to increase their knowledge and development of employment and industry.

This work has resulted in some clients obtaining employment, volunteering, enrolling on education courses for the next academic year, and achieving qualifications which is a fantastic testament to the team, and demonstrates what can still be achieved by clients with motivation and dedication.

We have also continued to provide employment support to those who have been deemed as key workers to ensure they are able to work within the guidelines laid out by the government and remain safe at work. Our coaches have had to work in a different but creative way to ensure we still provide a service, and we are proud to still have supported our client base.

We have also worked to create and provide stimulating work for our Reading College Courses, ACE@Optalis and Activate My Potential, with students engaging well and providing important structure and routine.

With the ever changing landscape, Optalis Supported Employment Service has been, and will continue to be, acutely aware of the impact on the mental health of our clients, and will work closely with employers and clients to ensure the safe return to work within government guidelines.

Visit the Optalis website for details of the Supported Employment Service.

The Educational Psychology Service, which includes four different services has adapted well to the demands of the Covid-19 new ways of working.  Since lockdown and the temporary “closure” of schools and pre-school settings, the services have adapted to a virtual way of working, continuing to offer support for those children already known to us.

Early Years Inclusion Service (EYIS)

The Early Years Inclusion Service (EYIS) supports pre-school children identified either by their early years setting or by health service colleagues as having or likely to have special educational needs and/or disabilities; these notifications and referrals are now coming in by email. The paediatric assessments are often being carried out by video-conferencing with parents. The notifications and referrals continue to be discussed at the monthly, now virtual, Early Years Support Panel. The outcomes of panel for individual children continue to be offered to parents and the referrer via a postal service letter or email. 

Early Years Inclusion Advisor (EYIA)

Early Years Inclusion Advisor (EYIA) continues to support providers to support children who may have special educational needs or disabilities. Previously planned reviews of progress for children already known, have been carried out with the setting by phone or audio-conferencing, being shared with the parent by phone, written notes being shared by email. Parents have welcomed the opportunity to liaise with the advisor in depth, one-on-one.  The EYIA continues to keep in touch with pre-school settings by telephone, email and via early years weekly briefings.

Early Years Inclusion Teachers (EYITs)

Early Years Inclusion Teachers (EYITs) who similarly support young children with complex SEND but in their homes, are keeping in touch with their families by phone and where possible are sharing strategies and modelling interventions via video-conferencing. Parents have found the continuity of ongoing support, albeit virtual, extremely helpful.  

Early Years - planning for transition to school  

The Early Years Inclusion Service (EYIS) has developed a range of short documents, to support families and settings with possible alternative ideas for effective transition within the restraints of Covid-19.  These have been published on the Wokingham Schools Hub and emailed to settings and parents for those children with SEND moving to school this Autumn.

Early Years - training for Providers

The Early Years Inclusion Advisor (EYIA) is starting to adapt training sessions for early year’s providers, so that essential training such as the Early Years SENCo Networks can be delivered virtually using Microsoft Teams.

Learning Support Service

The Learning Support Service supports children in primary school who have complex literacy or numeracy needs. The Learning Support Teachers assess and review children’s needs, developing programmes of support, which are modelled to school teaching staff. The programmes are now being delivered via video-conferencing.   The Learning Support teachers are also updating, creating and delivering online advice and training to school teaching staff including dyslexia training as well as contributing virtually to the termly school planning meetings.

The Mental Health Support Team - Education 

Continue to fulfil their training, are developing skills in supporting children and young people experiencing mild to moderate mental health needs.  They are supporting pupils in twelve designated schools.  Current social distancing regulations have impacted on some activities offered, although some young people have been happy to continue with their support via What’s App or Microsoft Teams.

Educational Psychology Team (EP) 

Are continuing to fulfill the statutory obligations related to Education Health and Care needs assessments. Video conferencing is being used with parents and school/setting staff and is being trialed with older children.

School planning meetings

School planning meetings between Educational Psychologists, schools, learning support teachers and Foundry College have continued virtually so that teacher support and advice can continue.  School SENCos and teachers are contacting their link EPs by telephone, email and video conferencing.  Key annual reviews are continuing using Microsoft Teams as are the SENCO networks.

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Panel (SEND)

The Educational Psychologist service continues to contribute to the weekly SEND panel which is now run virtually using Microsoft Teams. Information provided to panel is also based on any prior knowledge of the child as well as evidence of need which may have been already provided by a range of professionals.

On-Line school training offer

Educational Psychologists continue to deliver support as tutors, as well as sharing advice and guidance on supporting families through the lockdown. This includes support for the mental health and well-being of children and young people, as well as bereavement and critical incidents support.  Associated documents have been published on the Wokingham School’s Hub in both the School’s and Early Years’ sections as appropriate.

David Green, Intervention Team Manager has provided an update on how his service has successfully adapted during these turbulent times. 

The Short Breaks Service continues to operate - supporting families through these challenging times. 

Bridges Resource Centre continues to operate a paired down service providing daytime and overnight support to children and families with the greatest needs. Parents report being really pleased that their child can continue to use the service ‘safely’, thanks to the efforts of staff to minimise the risk of infection. Families have been reassured that, if they need anything, the team is there to support them and the service is still running. We would like to express a huge thank you to the staff team at Bridges who have been adaptable and committed as they continue to deliver face-to-face services to children. 

ASSIST, FIRST, the Short Break Co-ordinator and some staff from Bridges continue to provide telephone and email support to parents. Many families have expressed how grateful they are that the teams have been in touch, with a number expressing that, whilst they know we can’t make the situation better, just having someone to offload to when things are tough and knowing the person on the end of the phone understands, makes a huge difference. 

Where Short Break Services such as personal assistants, groups and clubs have been unable to continue, we are accepting requests to use direct payments in alternative ways, such as the purchase of play equipment to help families keep their children occupied and provide a ‘break’ for parents. The CAN Network Officer has also been busy collecting and filtering through useful online resources for children and families.

Our Occupational Therapists have also been hard at work supporting families over the phone and using video calls to support families to set up pieces of equipment. The extra efforts they have gone to in terms of helping to get appropriate equipment have been valued by families and there has been lots of positive feedback.

We are delighted that the efforts the teams have undertaken with all families have been well received with the following feedback being offered from SEND Voices Wokingham:

“Families have been singing the Short Break Team’s praises about how helpful you have been and how easy the process has been to look at alternative ways of using families Direct Payments during this time – it is making a big difference to family life.

This certainly isn’t happening everywhere in the country, and great that you have all been able to help, we wanted you to know that your efforts have been felt and appreciated by everyone.”

If any families who receive Short Breaks Direct Payments want to discuss how they can use them during lock down please email David.green@wokingham.gov.uk and shortbreaksselfassessment@wokingham.gov.uk

For further details on the short break service please visit the short breaks service and respite care web page.

Sonia Aulak, Head of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) has provided an update on the work that the SEND Service is doing during these challenging times:

The SEND Service undertakes the Education Health and Care Needs Assessment (EHCNA) for children and young people between the ages of 0 - 25 years. It arranges the provision required to meet the needs identified on an Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) and organises the appropriate reviews of a child’s progress.

The service adapted very quickly to the new ways of working brought on by the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19. I’m incredibly proud of how hard everyone has been working to minimise disruptions to the statutory process and maintain “business as usual” wherever possible. During these challenging times, the team has continued to provide relevant support and guidance to our service users and partners in education. The hard work and dedication of the Service means that we also continue to meet statutory obligations around the processing of statutory requests for EHCNAs; decisions to issue draft and final EHCPs; consulting with schools for placements; Annual Reviews; and Phased Transfers. 

The weekly SEND Panel, where the Needs Assessment requests and decisions to issue are made, is taking place virtually using Microsoft Teams, which has proven effective. Co-production meetings and Annual Review meetings with families and schools are taking place virtually, wherever possible. Following additional duties that have been placed on local authorities by the Department for Education (DfE), the SEND Service is also reviewing the risk assessments that schools have been asked to complete for children and young people with EHCPs. We are working tirelessly with colleagues, services, schools and families to ensure that the needs of these children and young people are being met.

The Team’s particular focus on ensuring the EHCNA process was not affected in these uncertain times has paid off, as I am pleased to announce that 95% of assessments have been completed on time - with final EHCPs being issued. This is a great achievement given the exceptional circumstances. 

Whilst our aim is to maintain “business as usual” as much as we can, we recognise that COVID-19 and the mounting pressures on education, health and social care is having an impact on our services. Currently, the provision on offer is limited, however the SEND Service continues to do its utmost to continue supporting children and families, despite the challenges.

Visit the Wokingham Parent Carer forum SEND Voices website for information, advice and resources during the COVID-19 outbreak. You can also keep update to date via the SEND Voices Facebook page.

The Wokingham SEND Voices website also has a helpful COVID-19 quick reference guide for Wokingham Borough SEND families with useful information and resources.

Sign up for council 0 to 25 SEND updates by registering with  our email alerts system.

Send us your views on our Local Offer service by completing our online Local Offer survey or by emailing us at info.families@wokingham.gov.uk

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