Alternative Provision in Bristol:
I should have realised that moving from a school whose Chair of Governors hadn’t satisfactorily dealt with our complaint about inclusion, to an AP where he was the actual headteacher was never going to end well. It didn’t end well. It ended up with my son dropping out of education entirely and nobody actually caring or doing anything about it. Just one of Bristol’s forgotten temporarily off-rolled children.
Alternative provision (AP) is a form of education that takes place outside of school. It is arranged by Local Authorities (LA) or schools themselves for pupils who do not attend mainstream. This could be because they have been excluded, they have an illness or are school phobic which has led to school refusal.
APs may include settings such as pupil referral units (PRUs) or Hospital Education and children may remain on the roll of their original school – although the on-roll school won’t be affected by the child’s non-attendance in AP.
Bristol has a high spend on AP, in fact, it has the highest spend of any city outside of London. This was an issue raised at Bristol Schools’ Forum (BSF).
AP spend often crops up in BSF High Needs Block updates. In January 2019, it was noted that AP Top-Up had increased by £117K due to increased PRU places, but SEND Business Manager Mary Taylor, said they were looking to ‘tighten up’ the payment.
After my son’s year 7 place at a mainstream Bristol secondary school fell through due to inclusion failures, he eventually ended up in a Bristol AP. Initially, it was good start. I had requested a Needs Assessment on 14/09/2018 prior to his arrival and we already had an in-depth report from the Bristol Autism Team (BAT).
Transitioning from one thing to another, or one place to another is a classic ASD difficulty. It was something the BAT team picked up on as a real problem.
One of the reasons we had chosen his mainstream secondary school was because it was in close proximity to the primary school he had attended. It made sense that he then went to the nearest secondary school. They had assured me before he started that they could meet his needs without an EHCP. I would need to support him on the way to this school and as it was just a short distance from where my primary school aged daughter would continue to go it seemed perfect.
Unfortunately, this school is in the exact opposite direction of the AP, meaning that now we had an hour long school run through the busiest part of Bristol on foot. For an autistic child struggling with transitioning it was disastrous. Not long after his start at AP, I applied for home to school transport, but the Home To School Travel Team ignored the application and did not respond.
For a short while, the AP sent a member of staff to collect my son from home and walk him in. This worked well until behind my back, they decided to make him independent and walk himself in. This caused an almighty ASD storm. My son became incredibly anxious, no longer trusted the school and stopped going in.
It was at this point I approached the Home To School Travel Team again. A man on the phone told me that my son would not qualify for school transport because if he did not have an EHCP, he did not have SEND. It’s incredibly hard to deal with this level of incompetence, but I pushed for a review of his case.
This is Bristol City Council’s transport policy directly off of their website today. It clearly repeats the guidance to Local Authorities from Government which states that distance does not matter when it comes to disabled children.
But the final decision from the Bristol City Council team was to refuse travel support because my child could walk and we did not meet the over 3 miles requirement.
The result of trying to get my autistic child to school resulted in his extreme anxiety ramping up causing a series of accidents that required hospital treatment and increasing meltdowns leading to an incredibly serious incident.
No parent wants to take photographs of their vulnerable child having a crisis let alone put them on the internet, but nobody is listening. My son has missed almost the entire length of Year 7. Bristol City Council Home To School Travel Team say he can walk to school accompanied absolutely fine, but he really can’t. SEND parents do not go out of their way to make their lives harder. At one point, my school run was between 8 and 12 miles every day.
The AP also had a plan in place which meant that if my child was too anxious to come into school when he arrived, they wouldn’t force him. He would go home again. I have spent the last nine months bumping up against one insane policy after another.
It got to a point where I couldn’t physically get him to school. I couldn’t walk over the motorway bridge connecting St Jude’s to St Paul’s because it was too dangerous. I couldn’t walk the other way through the end of the M32 traffic, it was too overwhelming. The busy roads would cause an hour long meltdown on Newfoundland Way. Occasionally, we managed to succeed by walking down towards Easton and approaching via St Werburghs if he wore a blindfold.
The buses were too busy at that time of the morning, he would have a meltdown if someone even brushed past him. I paid for Ubers and taxis some days but I couldn’t afford it every day. It was a hopeless situation.
At one point, we walked to Bristol Temple Meads in the completely opposite direction to try and get a train to Montpelier just to miss out the busy central flash points. But it all went Curious Incident at the railway station when a sea of commuters tsunamied towards us.
I tried so hard to get my child to school. Nobody cared that he couldn’t come in. The AP knew he was unable to come in. His on-roll school knew he was unable to come in. I asked for the AP to call me back to discuss things. Calls never came despite promises. His on-roll school turned the other way.
The only good thing at the AP was a science teacher, the kind of teacher who makes education exciting and fresh. He tried to persuade my son to come to school and it was the closest we came to succeeding. But you need everyone to do their jobs properly for this kind of thing to succeed. You need the Head of Service at Bristol City Council to do their job properly, the transport team to do their job properly, the SendCo at the on-roll school to do their job properly, the assistant head at the AP to do their job properly and the headteacher of the AP to do their job properly. Otherwise, it just doesn’t work.
Finally, a legal firm managed to get themselves together enough to suggest going to Judicial Review. But by that point, my son hadn’t really been at the AP for 7 weeks. What was the point?
I had tried to get hold of the SendCo at the on-roll school in the final weeks of his registration at AP to warn them the placement was not working and we needed to come up with a plan. She didn’t get back to me, apparently she didn’t get the message. I had to literally walk into the mainstream school building and ask the receptionist to get her to call me back.
When that call came, she tried to tell me that it was no longer the school’s duty to provide an education, it was now up to the Local Authority because he was getting an EHCP draft plan. You always think as a Send parent that you’ve heard everything, but the surprises just keep on coming. I informed her that as it was my child’s on-roll school, he would be returning on the Monday after half term and he had also asked for the school to be named on the EHCP. I don’t know who is the most horrified at that thought, me or the on-roll school, but it’s about time someone else has the stress of incompetence.
Bristol SEND is in crisis. That is a fact. But what is also a fact is that too many people working within inclusion turn the other way. I suppose one child not coming into AP for over a month makes their job easier. But what has happened is that my child has been robbed of a year’s worth of education. He is not the only child going through this and it disgusts me. People working with Bristol’s most vulnerable children shouldn’t be complicit in enabling this level of non-attendance due to disability. Bristol City Council should hold its head in shame.
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