To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what support his Department has provided to vulnerable and disadvantaged children during the covid-19 outbreak.
Identifying and supporting vulnerable children is a top priority for the government. Attending school is a strong protective factor for many vulnerable children and young people. This is why educational establishments have remained open for these children throughout the COVID-19 outbreak. We are closely monitoring the attendance of vulnerable children and encouraging attendance where that would be in their best interests. My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education, has written to all education settings and Directors of Children’s Services in England to encourage attendance for these children.
Approximately 112,000 of the children in attendance on 18 June had an education, health and care (EHC) plan or a social worker, up from 92,000 on 11 June. We estimate this represents 22% of all children classified as ‘children in need’ or who have an EHC plan, up from 18% on 11 June. Approximately 101,000 of the children in attendance on 18 June were classified as ‘otherwise vulnerable’, up from 83,000 on 11 June.
My right hon, Friend, the Secretary of State for Education, has also stressed the need for schools, local authorities and social workers to maintain contact and supporting services for vulnerable children and young people throughout this period. Officials from the department and re-deployed Ofsted inspection teams are working with local authorities directly to ensure the systems and processes for maintaining contact with vulnerable children are robust in every local authority in England. The department has issued detailed guidance explaining how education providers can support vulnerable children, including to monitor and encourage attendance.
Where vulnerable children and young people are not attending a nursery, school or further education setting, we have asked local authorities and educational settings to ensure every vulnerable child knows that their setting is there to support them and that systems are in place to keep in touch with those children who are unable to attend.
We are also providing digital devices (laptops and tablets) and/or internet access (4G hotspot devices) to some vulnerable and disadvantaged children and young people who do not currently have access to them from other sources, such as their school. The department has ordered over 200,000 laptops and tablets and allocated devices to local authorities and academy trusts based on its estimates of the number of eligible children that do not have access to a device. We are working to provide these devices in the shortest possible timeframe; deliveries to schools and local authorities began in May and have continued throughout June. As of 14 June, we have shipped over 100,000 laptops and 20,000 4G routers.
Furthermore, due to the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 outbreak, we recognise families will face increased pressure on household budgets over the coming months. That is why we are launching a Covid Summer Food Fund which will enable children who are eligible for benefits-related free school meals to be supported over the summer holiday period.
We have also supported charities that provide vital services for vulnerable children and young people. This includes providing £1.6 million for the NSPCC to expand its helpline so that adults can report their concerns about any child’s wellbeing. We have invested more than £7 million to Barnardo’s for the See, Hear, Respond service that offers targeted help to vulnerable children, young people and their families affected by COVID-19 with measures put in place to stop its spread. The Vulnerable Children National Charities Strategic Relief Fund opened in June, and is a £7.6 million joint Department for Education and Home Office fund for national children’s charities that offer services to safeguard vulnerable children that have financially suffered due to the impact of COVID-19. We have also announced more than £12 million for 14 innovation projects in social services, each taking a holistic, family-based approach to addressing the increased risk some children and young people are facing.