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Less than quarter of vulnerable children received onsite education in Bridgend county during pandemic

UNDER a quarter of vulnerable children in Bridgend county borough were being taught at school due to the pandemic.

Around 23% of children in care in Bridgend received on-site school teaching between January and March, according to Bridgend Council.

Mark Lewis, the council’s group manager for family support, said the council can do “more” to support the education of children who are cared for by the local authority.

On-site teaching for all pupils resumed in Wales from April 12 at primary, special and secondary schools.

Prior to this, schools remained open to vulnerable pupils, key workers’ children and those taking essential exams.

There were 271 looked after children in Bridgend county borough at statutory school age as of March 2021.

An average of 50 of these pupils (from primary school age to year 8) were accessing on-site teaching since January 2021.

A report by Mr Lewis revealed looked after children “often underachieve” academically when compared with their peers and they are less likely to enter further education.

The report also revealed that throughout the pandemic, 33 looked after children were given extra tuition from a school teacher, ranging from one to six hours’ teaching per week depending on the child’s needs.

During the pandemic, Bridgend Council decided to prioritise on-site teaching for children in foster placements at risk of breaking down.

Mr Lewis’ report reads:

“These children were those deemed by schools, social care and foster carers to be most in need of accessing on-site support during the height of the pandemic.”

The local authority said the ways in which remote working and limited on-site teaching has affected pupils’ education is currently unknown.

A council spokesperson told the Local Democracy Service: “It is unclear at this stage as to what impact the pandemic has had on outcomes for learners.”

They added:

“A number of children were offered the opportunity to access on-site provision, however, some parents/carers declined due to their concerns linked to Covid-19 at the height of the pandemic.

“For those children who did not attend, ongoing collaboration and contact was offered between schools, social care, early help services and any other agency involved with the family at that time.

“All looked after and vulnerable children continued to be supported through a multi-agency response. This would include close liaison and collaboration between foster carers, schools, social workers and other services to ensure the needs of children continued to be met.

“Schools were provided with advice about the level of support and contact required with looked-after children… Doorstep visits were undertaken by schools and other agencies where there were concerns in respect of contact.”

Mr Lewis said the council’s education engagement team has done “lots of good work” during the pandemic, “within a challenging time for all pupils, particularly looked after children”.

“It’s an area that will remain a challenge because… the transition back into education is going to be a challenge and I think there’s more we will do and we can do to support that for looked after children.”

The council has given laptops to 96 looked after children deemed “digitally excluded”. In total, 2,000 pupils out of 23,000 across the county borough were identified as being in need of ICT equipment and have all received it.

Councillor Nicole Burnett, the cabinet member for social services and early help, said:

“It’s really important that we look to make sure that our learners aren’t discriminated against in any way.”

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