Expert event (7 to 11 September) - back to school a... - Mencap


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Expert event (7 to 11 September) - back to school after lockdown

Sarah_Mencap profile image

Professor Adam Boddison (Chief Executive at the National Association for Special Educational Needs and Chair of Whole School SEND) joined us to talk about anything to do with going back to school.

Thank you for all your posts.

This topic is now closed, but please read Adam's posts for advice and information for anything to do with school and education.

If you want to post about school (or anything else) please just write a new post -

Best wishes


24 Replies


My has Autism, I say boy he is 27 years old now. After the six weeks holiday it was always a problem getting him back to school. About a week before I used to gently drop it into conversations that he would be going back to school use. I used to prepare him and remind him that he would see his friends and name some of his favourite teachers.

I would take him to the shops to buy his new uniform, pencils and pens etc.

I would even walk passed the school a few times during the holidays with him.

At the start of the holiday we would start a diary with the things he would like to do during the holiday and tick them off and write in this diary about the things he did during the long weeks off school. For example going to the park with his sister, where he went on holiday this year. Then we would take it into school on the first day back to show his teacher. This I found was a way of getting him focused on something different so he would get through the door on his first day back. Once through that door, I knew I had made it, and could then relax.

I hope my suggestions help other people get their little ones back without the meltdowns. Good luck, and remember it is a learning curve and it will soon pass. I couldn't be more proud of my boy, I know he is 27years old now, but he will always be my boy!!

Mencap_online_comms profile image
Mencap_online_commsAdministrator in reply to

Thanks for your lovely post. There are some wonderful ideas in there.

nasenCEO profile image
nasenCEOExpert in reply to

Some good suggestions in here. Thanks very much for sharing.

My daughter aged now 45 years, had a dreadful time at school, She became totally school refusal! and her anxiety levels finished up very high! Turned out she has High and definite Sensory Processing issues, I wish all children with Special needs Autism etc, should have access to an Occupational Therapist level 3, on Starting school! this would spare much heartache for the child and family, if only these children are stopped being inappropriately placed in Main Stream school and then get sanctioned daily.

Mencap_online_comms profile image
Mencap_online_commsAdministrator in reply to lecsmum

Hello. It sounds like you had a very difficult time with your daughter, I am so sorry. I hope that things have improved since then, but school can be a very stressful experience for some families. This year is likely to be even harder too because of COVID-19. Thanks for posting.

nasenCEO profile image
nasenCEOExpert in reply to lecsmum

Thanks for sharing - that sounds like a quite a journey. I have seen Occupational Therapists do some excellent practical work with children with SEND to support them in accessing school. Those who specialise in paediatric work are particularly skilled.

Sarah_Mencap profile image


There is a great post from CharmaineChamp (who was our expert for the recent continence and sleep event). It is all about reducing anxiety and preparing for transitioning back to school.

Many thanks


nasenCEO profile image

Hello everybody. Ahead of the discussion next week, I wanted to introduce myself and give you some ideas about the kinds of things it might be good to talk about. Thanks to all those who have been super-efficient and posted already!

Returning to school will be different for everybody and next week is an opportunity for us to think about how this is working for children with SEND. Some children have stayed in school during the lockdown and for them it may be the return of other children to the school that affects them. Some children will have preferred the learning from home experience and there are some voices suggesting that moving forwards it could be considered a reasonable adjustment. Children with complex medical needs will have specific health considerations and families may be more concerned about the safety of school transport than the school environment.

The situation will be different for children with EHC plans and for those accessing SEN Support. It will be different depending on what part of the country children are in. And it will be different depending on the type of school or setting children are in. Whatever the scenario, feel free to to use this forum for discussion about any issues impacting positively or negatively in relation to children with SEND returning to school.

I will look to check in at least once each day to respond to posts, but please also feel free to reply to each other.

Mencap_online_comms profile image
Mencap_online_commsAdministrator in reply to nasenCEO

Hello Adam

It is great to have you here this week. Here are few videos about going back to school to inspire people to join in:

Best wishes

Mencap's online community team.

clkSibs profile image
clkSibsExpert in reply to nasenCEO

Hello Adam - really good to be talking about return to school this week. I just wanted to add that it can also be a tough time for siblings returning to school too who may have worries about the health of their brothers and sisters. Time away from school may have also presented other challenges for siblings, such as providing more care than usual and not being able to do things with their family that they had before. We have produced a blog for young siblings on returning to school on our youngSibs website



nasenCEO profile image
nasenCEOExpert in reply to clkSibs

Hello Clare - thanks for making this point about siblings. As well as the challenges you identify here, there is also the issue of siblings who attend different schools, where the restrictions/approaches/ethos are very different. I have heard this playing out in some homes too.

I really liked the blog, so thanks for sharing that. I have heard of some families extending some of the good habits that developed during lockdown into this new period too. For example, making sure that everybody eats together in the evening or that there are family walks at the weekend. For siblings who have been young carers in particular, I hope the return to school also helps them to have a chance to rest and recover too and to see some of the school friends again.

clkSibs profile image
clkSibsExpert in reply to nasenCEO

Thanks Adam - yes absolutely good point about siblings attending different schools. In usual times this presents challenges, but right now it really does add to the complexity of the situation. And your prompt about keeping some of the positive changes from lockdown has reminded me to pop a post on Twitter about this very thing! So thank you.

Kind regards

Clare, Sibs

Hi Adam. The main issue in my household is that everyone, including me, is just so tired. Trying to get used to the school routine is exhausting. My son is very happy to back and doesn't seem to be too worried about the new rules. Getting up on time is a huge problem. I also worry that his concentration must be pretty rubbish as he's excited and tired all at the same time. Thanks

nasenCEO profile image
nasenCEOExpert in reply to Freddy44

The tiredness point is well made. It's not just the new routines of getting up early and so on, but also the constant thinking about making sure you are social distancing and following the new rules, etc. In a way, the return to school is a major transition for nearly every child (and their teachers) and it's all happening at once. And it's mental and emotional tiredness as much as physical tiredness.

In terms of helping younger children to get back into good sleep habits again, there are some good tips from a parents organisation in Australia that I quite like:


I struggle with anxiety and I do (still) worry about passing this onto my son. I posted about this last year at about the same time, and we made good progress (he eventually settled well at school and his anxiety calmed once he got used to the new school year).

I have found lockdown very challenging for my mental health, and I am worried about my son catching covid at school.

I also think school will not be like he remembers and this will upset him. Everything feels very strange at the moment. New rules will be hard to him to remember. I have spoken to the school about this and they tried to reassure me. I have also spoken to my son and he seems to understand – but he hasn’t seen it yet (he doesn't start until later this week).

Having said all that, he is bored at home and says he wants to go back to school. He misses his friends. I could do with a break too.

Thank you for listening

nasenCEO profile image
nasenCEOExpert in reply to Frumpyfish

The return to school has definitely raised anxiety levels for many different groups of people, not just for children. For example, I know that many teachers are worried about unintentionally passing the virus on members of their own families. It's completely understandable to be concerned about the risks of returning to school, but I also think there are risks of not returning to school too. For children with SEND (which includes those with social, emotional, mental health needs), their school experiences and outcomes were not as good as those without SEND before the pandemic and my concern would be that this gap is getting wider the longer that they are not in schools. The reality is that all options have some risk and it can be hard to navigate them.

I hope your son gets on ok at school this week and that this in turn goes on to reassure you and hep your anxiety to calm down too.

My son has PMLD not been to school since march and is 16 now and the LA has not provided him a 16+ placement so he is at home with me. I have started the tribunal process but am unsure if this will be effective?

nasenCEO profile image
nasenCEOExpert in reply to adaman1st

Sorry to hear this. On the plus side, the data around tribunals shows that they most favour the appellant, so hopefully that works itself out positively for you. Have you talked to you local SENDIASS service or your local National Network of Parent Carer Forum? They are both useful sources of advice and support:

Sarah_Mencap profile image
Sarah_MencapAdministrator in reply to adaman1st

Hello adaman1st

What an difficult situation. Please call our Learning Disability Helpline to see if they can help at all. You can all them on 0808 808 1111

or email - They are quite busy at the moment so there is a contact form too -

Best wishes


Hello. My son has started primary school today. We did look at home schooling as a permanent option (I know that must seem funny to all those parents who have been doing this since March) but we’re going to try mainstream school. He is very keen to go.

This would be a big deal anyway, but obviously this has been a strange year. I am anxious about this as a parent for a couple of reasons:

- He has missed out on many of things they would normally do to settle him to school. I would have really liked to have had more of a chance to look around the classroom.

- Like most children, he has been at home with us for about 6 months. He will find it a bit of shock. He has really missed being around other children, and he hasn’t been keen on keeping in touch online (he just wanders off).

- I am a bit worried about him getting to loo on time. This is a very hit and miss with this at the best of times.

I dropped him off this morning and he seemed ok (first day). I didn't get to hang around, or go in with him, which I actually think helped. Got to admit I am a nervous wreck though. Perhaps I should stop fussing and let him get on with it.

Love those videos by the way - I am going to show them to my son and partner later. They made me smile.

thanks for listening.


nasenCEO profile image
nasenCEOExpert in reply to Adam1975

Hi Adam - thanks for sharing your concerns. I think I should probably start by saying that what you experiencing is completely normal (albeit in the very unusual context of a global pandemic!!). Almost every parent I've ever met had concerns when their child started primary school. You've specifically mentioned settling in, toileting and coping with change. Other concerns can be about whether children will eat properly at lunch time, whether they will make any friends or whether they will cope in a bigger/busier environment than their early years setting or at home.

However, I also know that the vast majority of worried parents are pleasantly surprised at just how well their children adapt to primary school and how much they enjoy it. They seem to thrive and they grow up so much in such a short period of time. I hope this is very much the experience for your son too.

You also mentioned home education, which can be very effective for some children. Before making a decision about this, it would be good to look into some of the practicalities so you know what you and your son and committing to. There are lots of websites with information about this, but there is a good e-book (£2.99 on Kindle!) that would be well worth looking at and was just published last year, so very up to date:

Whichever way you go, I hope it all works out for you.

Hello. I can’t imagine parents whose children have extra needs are feeling about going back to school. It is a very worrying time.

It is many years since my brother (with LD) was as school but it was a big deal going back to school after 7 weeks off at summer. Routine was always such a key thing and when he had got used to the routine of being at home then he struggled to switch back to school routine. I know my parents did a lot of preparing for school and this helped (walking past the school, talking to the teacher)

On top of all this, there is the worry. Are children going to be safe as school? I am concerned about this for my own children who do not have any additional needs.

I hope everyone is getting on ok and that all the schools can stay open. Jo

nasenCEO profile image
nasenCEOExpert in reply to jow2319

Thanks for sharing. Yes - it certainly is a worrying time for parents and the sudden change of routine will be a challenge for some children. Interestingly, the fact that the pandemic has had a major disruption on the education of the vast majority of children means that there is more focus on effective transition than ever before. In particular, I have heard from some families that the increased anxiety about returning to school for their children with SEND was offset by a reduction in anxiety because they did not feel like they were in the minority, i.e. the return was going to be a challenge for everybody (including other children and also the staff).

nasen has a free recording of webinar, which considers how SENCOs can respond to COVID lockdown and transition back to school. It's aimed at SENCOs, but I think has useful information for families too:

Wishing your family well as they return to school.

nasenCEO profile image

Thanks everybody for engaging in this discussion. I thought it would be useful to share a couple of useful websites that have lots of free resources that could support the return to school for children with SEND:

I hope the return to school goes as well as possible.



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