Supporting families through COVID-19

Cognus is committed to supporting children and young people and parents/carers during COVID-19. While we continue to find ways to show our support, we wanted to share some of the things our teams have done to help families and professionals alike.

Reaching out to 1800+ families

At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Cognus SEN service wanted to make sure families felt supported and cared for during this difficult period. The SEN team decided that the best way to do this was to call more than 1800 families in Sutton with an EHCP.

Everyone at Cognus took up the challenge of helping the SEN team with calling some of the families, a task which was above and beyond ‘business as usual’ and generally quite time-consuming and emotionally intense.

By 27 April, all the calls were complete and we’ve had an amazing response from families. We’re proud to have been there for them during a challenging period in everyone’s lives.


Free phone consultation for parents and school staff

In June, Cognus’ Educational Psychology service launched a community call service available for all Sutton parents, carers, school staff and other professionals. The service invited individuals to book a time and date with our Educational Psychologists and talk about any questions or anxieties they may have during this time.

The response to the service has been fantastic, and as a result we have been able to offer support to members of the community who previously would not have had access to our service.

The majority of the calls we received were from parents who have been working hard to teach, care for, and entertain their children over a stressful period, and who have needed someone to share their concerns with, and to receive some support for themselves.

We usually meet with parents when we become involved with a pupil in school, but this service has allowed us to work more consultatively, and has helped us to focus on their primary concerns which may often differ to those the school hold.

We are always looking for ways of working that allow us to have a wider impact in supporting and enhancing the wellbeing of children and young people; we have been able to do this through this initiative which we hope to continue moving forward.


Bridging the technology gap

The Sutton Virtual School has ensured that all Children Looked After (CLA) in Sutton are not disadvantaged by a technology gap.

The vast majority of our children in care have been learning at home.  At Sutton Virtual School, we’ve worked hard to ensure that every single of our children looked-after is able to access high quality learning at home.

Each child in care has a Virtual School case manager, who has liaised with foster carers to offer educational advice, support and resources.  We have provided bespoke learning advice around individual needs, planned and signposted a range of learning activities for every age phase, and brought other professionals together to organise additional specialist services, such as occupational therapy, NHS community services and online tuition where needed.

We have also used pupil premium funds to provide our children learning resources to aid their home schooling – learning aids, reading books, maths games and visuals, other learning games, and a range of resources to promote keeping active, whether it be through garden activities and sports, or resources that help children to develop their fine and gross motor skills.

We’ve had lots of positive feedback from foster carers about the impact of these resources promoting learning at home and keeping the children engaged and interested in learning.  Feedback from our young people and their foster carers has been really positive.  Lots of foster carers have contacted us to report how the learning resources have helped children re-engage in their learning, learn new concepts in interesting ways and be more active participants in their learning.

The resources have also helped children to work on their individual next steps because the learning materials were carefully chosen and planned around them.  A recent email we received said, ‘I just wanted to thank you so much. These resources will make a big difference in continuing some fun learning for him and all the family whilst all at home.  You continue to be so supportive of [the child] and in aspiring for him to achieve and we remain very grateful for this. It makes such a difference.’

We’ve also provided children in care laptops and i-pads to ensure that they can access their learning, especially given that so much of it is online at the moment and now that the Government has announced a scheme to provide more children computers, we hope that even more children will benefit from this.

We are using technology to adapt our service and the support we offer to provide an ongoing service in the current circumstances around COVID-19 and hope to develop this further to extend the support that we offer to foster carers.


Sports enrichment project for Children Looked After

Kate Leyshon, Head of Virtual School, would have been in the London Marathon on 26 April – she aimed to raise £1,000 to fund a sports initiative for Children Looked After which will help them to gain a greater awareness of the positive effects of exercise on their minds and bodies.

Instead, due to Covid19, Kate decided to do the #TwoPointSixChallenge with 2.6hr (2hr 36) cycling on her home turbo trainer and completed the challenge twice for 5hr 12 mins!

Visit Kate’s Just Giving Page


Support and training from Autism Service

Since the first mutterings of schools closing, we’ve been trying to find innovative ways of providing support and training to schools and parents.  We’ve put together hour-long versions of our parent programmes, which are soon going to be available to parents on YouTube.  This means that parents can view these whenever they have a spare moment, potentially in the evenings when children are (hopefully) in bed!

We have also created short ‘top tips’ videos covering topics from ways of structuring the ‘school’ day at home, to using visual supports to increase understanding of emotions.  These have been shared on our social media channels and will also be on YouTube.  Feedback from these has been really positive and we have been told that some clips have made it onto school parent WhatsApp groups, so it’s great these are being spread round.

We have also developed a programme of 7 Autism Champion training sessions in order to provide free CPD to school staff during this time. This in-depth training covers a range of topics related to autism and education, and was fully booked within a few days.

Finally, we have been able to support vulnerable pupils in innovative ways, including by giving the opportunity to lead on our social media ‘Youth Takeover every day between 7-8pm.  This has been facilitated so that the student can schedule the posts, and these can all be checked before they ‘go live’.  It has given him a great sense of purpose and something to look forward to each day. He says: “Doing the takeover of the Sutton Autism Service social media accounts inspired me to set up my own Twitter account and blog to promote the awareness and understanding of autism, mental health and SEND.”


Sutton Music Service

When the COVID-19 outbreak placed face to face lessons and rehearsals on hold, Sutton Music Service had to act quickly so that we could make sure we continued to give all our pupils the chance to continue their weekly practice and keep our music community going. Music-making is well known to be a great activity to promote positive mental health. Therefore, we firmly believe that children and young people must continue their musical development and carry on with their practice during this time of social distancing. Moving our tuition online has meant that we can continue to support our young people and continue providing work for our tutors.

In a normal week, we teach one-to-one lessons to over 500 pupils and we have ten orchestras and other ensembles, which bring together over 350 young musicians and singers. Within ten days of the schools closing, we were online! We started with our Music Academy lessons, and now we have over 300 lessons taking place weekly. Microsoft Teams has enabled us to develop this new way of working and it includes rigorous security measures that provides student safeguarding – we record every lesson and store them for review.

We are getting great feedback from parents/carers, including one saying: “SMS has always excelled in its music provision and its feeling of community is second to none, so we are not surprised at the efforts you are going.”

Our ensembles are a big part of Sutton Music Service, and we wanted to make sure that this community carried on in the virtual world. Since Easter, we have gradually started up our ten weekly rehearsals online. Students are practising music both as groups and in their sections and learning new pieces, which they can hopefully play together when they meet face to face. Our Sutton Young Singers and Sutton Youth Choir met for the first time as well last week (7 May), and they are now practising ‘A Million Dreams’ from The Greatest Showman.

We have also been working on collating a collection of video clips of our students playing ‘Sing a Rainbow’ – if you have a musical talent, please send us in a clip, and you could feature in our Sing a Rainbow mash-up – more details can be found on our website

Feel free to clap, sing or just improvise!


Virtual training success

Cognus’ Early Years Team provided two free online training sessions for Schools and PVI (Private, Voluntary and Independent) settings which were hugely successful.

Over 100 professionals from Early Years provision across Sutton attended the sessions, and many expressed their appreciation and said it made them feel supported.

There was no charge for the training as the team were well aware of the financial worries schools and settings are facing due to the current crisis.

The team is also offering all 77 PVI settings and nurseries access to an online training provider for a year. Each setting will also be able to offer staff, parents and extended families a Paediatric First Aid refresher. This means many parents will be able to get some basic training during this time when families find themselves at home with their children for longer than usual.

All of Sutton’s 225 registered childminders will also have access to the online training.