PACC Responds to Article in 'Schools Week' about Personal Protective Equipment in Schools
On 24th April Schools Week published an article about Severndale Specialist Academy securing Personal Protective Equipment to be worn by staff supporting its pupils. PACC has been in discussions with Severndale about concerns that have been raised by families that their children will be distress by being supported by staff wearing PPE and the fact that the Public Health recommendation is that PPE doesn't not need to be worn in schools. PACC has shared the following response to the article in Schools Week in the hope that it will prompt an open and productive conversation about an important issue and will encourage schools to think about how the needs of all children and families can be met.
Dear Schools Week
We wanted to respond to your article of the 24th April, about Severndale Specialist Academy in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, securing PPE. We are the local Parent Carer Forum and represent parent carers of children and young people with SEND in Shropshire, including families who have children who attend Severndale and we want to share an alternative perspective on the use of PPE in schools, including specialist settings.
While this lockdown period is difficult for all of us, the change from ‘normal’ is particularly difficult for many children and young people with complex needs, such as learning disabilities and/or autism. The loss of familiar routines and contact with trusted individuals is hugely distressing for these young people and families are reporting increasing concerns to us about the impact of this on their child’s mental health. Many families are caught between wanting to keep their disabled child isolated at home and struggling to support them effectively, with family relationships and mental health being placed under significant pressure.
The chance to return to school, even on a reduced basis offers a much needed sense of ‘normality’ that could lessen the distress being experienced by these vulnerable children, however this sense of normality will be lost for many, if these children are faced with being cared for by adults in full PPE. For some these will no longer be familiar adults, with recognisable smiles and kind eyes, but faceless figures with whom they have no connection. If this is what happens then we run the risk of changing school from a ‘safe space’ for many of these children to one which they are fearful of, which will only create more difficulties for these children and their families. We know that schools are doing a huge amount of good work supporting students with complex needs virtually, but parent carers are telling us this doesn’t work in all cases, with some children being confused and overwhelmed by virtual classrooms. This approach also does not provide families with a break from 24/7 caring, which school normally provides, and which is often so essential in maintaining family resilience. We surely need to consider how the school environment can be successfully made available for all those who need it.
We of course understand the need for school management to consider both the safety of children and staff, during these difficult times and understand that school staff might have concerns about providing support where social distancing cannot be maintained. The Public Health guidance however is clear that PPE is not necessary in educational settings, over and above usual hygiene precautions when providing personal care and to date there does not seem to be any evidence to suggest this is not appropriate advice.
Families of children with special educational needs and disabilities are one of the communities particularly impacted by Co-vid 19 and desperately need support to reduce the stresses they are facing. Schools have a really important role in supporting this to happen and we would like to see an open discussion about how this can be achieved for all of these families. School staff wearing PPE will not be a barrier to accessing support for all families, but it will be for some and surely schools have a duty to consider the needs of all their students?
We need to be able to have an honest conversation about these issues, without blame or suggestion that one party is dismissing or not considering the needs of another. The discussion about PPE in schools is just one of the conversations we will need to have as we consider what the school environments will look like in these new circumstances that we find ourselves. We need to be willing to consider alternative perspectives and understand the different challenges that we are all facing. It has never been more important for schools, both mainstream and specialist, to talk to families and to work together so that all children and young people can receive the education they deserve and are entitled too.
If you have any feedback about this situation or experience that you would like to share please do get in touch.
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