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Covid-19: Special school staff want jab priority

By Drew Miller Hyndman
BBC Ouch

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  • Coronavirus pandemic
image copyrightDiverse Abilities
image captionParents say teachers at special schools often provide medical care and should be treated like other front-line workers

Parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities are calling for teachers in special schools to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

Many parents have been told their children cannot attend school because of safety concerns about the virus.

Now they want staff in special schools to be prioritised for the vaccine and considered front-line workers.

The government said special schools should encourage pupils to attend.

image copyrightCharlotte Gray
image captionLaura cares for son Oscar alone and says their respite support collapsed during the pandemic

Staff in special schools are often required to provide personal and medical care for pupils, such as clearing tracheotomies, on top of regular teaching responsibilities.

The schools also offer precious respite to many families of disabled children who require a lot of additional care.

Laura Godfrey, 33, from Norwich, is mum to nine-year-old Oscar, who usually attends a school for children with complex needs. His return was delayed at the start of term, despite government advice for these schools to remain open.

"His school provision is essential to us as a family. Oscar's mental health suffered a lot in the first lockdown, as did mine. It was a very dark time."

He is currently attending school, but Laura worries it could be forced to close in the event of an outbreak.

She is calling for staff at special schools to be given PPE and access to the vaccine, to keep schools open and protect vulnerable pupils.

"They should be recognised and treated as front-line staff and afforded the same protections."

Laura's calls have been echoed by Mark Powell, CEO of the Dorset-based Diverse Abilities charity which runs a special school in Poole.

image copyrightDiverse Abilities
image captionStaff at Langside School in Poole were provided with PPE at the start of the pandemic

The school bought its own PPE in order to remain open during the pandemic but said it was "very difficult and extremely costly".

Mr Powell described PPE as a "wonderful barrier to prevent the spread of the virus" but said it had also been "a devastating barrier to the development and well-being of our pupils".

"The fact we have nurses, physiotherapists, and occupational therapists on site to form part of our children's school provision means that our school can be classified as a health setting, which are at the top of the list for priority vaccinations."

The Department for Education said the impact of being out of education "can be greatest on vulnerable children and those with education, health and care plans".

It said special schools should "continue to welcome and encourage pupils to go into school full-time" where possible and "ensure pupils with Send can successfully access remote education" if they are unable to attend.

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