SPECIAL educational needs and disabilities is the ‘biggest challenge’ education in Oxfordshire faces.

That was the message from Kevin Gordon, the county council’s corporate director of children’s services.

Speaking at the council’s education scrutiny committee yesterday, Mr Gordon led a presentation which focused on the impact of Covid-19 on schools and the positives to come out of the pandemic.

The meeting was the first since a chair and deputy chair were elected during a meeting on May 18, following local elections.

It provided the opportunity for councillors to hear about ‘emerging issues and areas of work’ the new committee can focus on.

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Mr Gordon said: “The biggest challenge we’ve got as a county is SEND.

“There is a growing awareness that the Children and Families Act 2014 was not properly funded by the Government.

“Oxfordshire is in common with just about every other council in the country which has challenges for funding.”

Michael Waine, chairman of the committee, added: “SEND will be one of our main focuses over the next two or three years.”

There are currently 12,937 pupils at Oxfordshire schools who receive SEN support.

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“There aren’t many silver linings from this pandemic but there are some,” said Mr Gordon.

“Attendances have been very good, it was a real focus for us with lots of tracking, checking and conversations with headteachers.

“We’ve been successful in keeping our Early Years settings open, above the national average.”

On April 1, data showed 94 per cent of Early Years children were attending, compared to 76 per cent nationally.

Mr Gordon also praised the work of the Oxfordshire Virtual School, which he said saw ‘great achievement at GCSE and A levels, with some going onto university’.

With regards to Covid-19, Kim James, head of school improvement and learning, said: “We are meeting weekly with headteachers, and with governors on a monthly basis.

“Covid is still here and there are changes on a weekly basis, with the Delta variant.

“The number of cases now are similar to those in October.

“We had 800 children in self-isolation last week, which is 800 more than it should be.

“Schools have been absolutely brilliant, they’re carrying out risk assessments and still operating in bubbles.”

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She continued: “Ventilation has been a key issue.

“Heads are being very good in going out and opening windows – in some cases, windows that might not have been open for a very long time.

“It is very clear in the Department for Education guidance that ventilation is important.”

One impact of the pandemic is the increase in parents teaching their children at home.

Elective home education (EHE) has increased by 44 per cent since September, and of the 931 children being educated at home, 200 have SEN support and 49 have an Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP) – a total of 26 per cent of all EHE children.

The committee will next meet on September 22.