Bristol City Council Send Provision Examined and Hidden

Bristol City Council Send Provision Report Finally Released Under Freedom of Information

In January 2019, a report into Send processes in Bristol and Home to School Transport commissioned by Bristol City Council, was handed over to the Local Authority (LA) and quickly forgotten about.

The report, carried out by Nottingham based PeopleToo, examined Send provision in Bristol, publishing their findings in: A review of: Approach to Delivering SEND; SEND Home to School Transport; Driving Excellence in Schools and Trade Services with Schools.

It’s been difficult getting this report released by Bristol City Council under the Freedom of Information Act. We had requested it in the summer of 2019, but it was refused. The reason given for this was that it was too expensive to comply with the request.

Bristol City Council wrote to us saying: ‘Under section 12 of the FOI Act, we are not obliged to comply with a request if we estimate that the cost of determining whether we hold the information, locating and retrieving it, and extracting it from other information would exceed the appropriate limit (currently £450 for Bristol City Council). This is calculated at £25 per hour for every hour spent on the activities described and is the equivalent of 18 hours or approximately three working days.’

Peopletoo report into Bristol City Council's Send Service

Bristol journalist Joanna Booth  had more luck with her request, however, the council has removed most of the pages ‘to protect the commercial interests of Peopletoo’.

In a letter to Joanna, the council wrote: ‘A review of: Approach to Delivering SEND; SEND Home to School Transport; Driving Excellence in Schools and Trade Services with Schools, January 2019 Under Section 43 (2), pages 10-33, 37-45, 47-59 and 62-63 of the original main report, and pages 3-15 and 17-18 of the Home to School Transport Review, have been removed so to protect the commercial interests of Peopletoo. This report was accepted as ‘draft’ status and was not used to inform any subsequent business case or programme of change.’

This means there are nearly 50 pages missing from the released report concerning Bristol Send and Bristol Home to School Transport, two highly contentious aspects of inclusion in the city.

Emilie Williams-Jones wrote in her High Needs Block update to which took place on 16 January 2019, that PeopleToo (a consultancy firm commissioned by the local authority to review High Needs Services and staffing capacity, among other educational things) is due to be complete its review by the end of January 2019 and feedback will be provided at the next Schools Forum Meeting.’

The agenda and minutes for the subsequent meeting does not mention the Peopletoo report.

The reports opens by noting that Bristol did not have a proper Send strategy, saying:  ‘The first observation of this review was the lack of a SEN Strategy that sets out the Bristol context, its current and future SEN profile, and its vision for addressing SEN needs in the City.’

Worryingly, it goes on to suggest that the LA may be taking a too ‘cautious’ approach to EHCP Needs Assessment Requests, saying: ‘Whilst appreciating that Bristol is currently operating within a context of a recent Judicial Review that is likely to have encouraged a cautious approach to assessment, there are opportunities to reduce the numbers of assessments and plans through a more robust approach “upstream”.’

One of its recommendations would help Bristol City Council become ‘more’ rigorous in its attempts to reduce the number of cases that ‘may’ not require an assessment or plan.

It also recommends doing away with the Bristol Autism Education Hub to make a ‘financial savings’. It does say that it ‘may be appropriate to move some advisory teacher capacity into the Bristol Autism Team – Family Learning and Family Support Hub so that the advice to schools can continue, either as a funded service or a charged service to schools’.

And what exactly is the Bristol Autism Team Education Hub? It’s the team that offers support to autistic children and young people by going into education settings and putting appropriate support in place. A vital service to autistic children in the city which helps many of them remain in mainstream education.

And for fun, those who need the sensory support service – Bristol City Council describes this as children or young people who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Deafened, Deafblind or Visually Impaired – can get their support from a tiered service to make sure those with the lowest tier only receive the ‘least interventions’.

Those families who have found it impossible getting Bristol City Council to provide home to school transport to specialist settings, will find little comfort in the fact that they were most likely right about being eligible. When discussing home to school transport, the report finds that ‘the team has had significant success in generally containing or reducing costs and the numbers of students provided with travel support in recent years’.

The following recommendation is already operating in Bristol with a flourish, the fact that the Send Tribunal has become a standard part of the EHCP process in Bristol would back this up. Those with ‘lower level SEND should be educated in mainstream schools’. They already are, which is probably why Bristol has one of the highest spends on Alternative Provision in the country.

There is no definition of ‘lower level’ Send in the report, but with a two-year EHCP process in Bristol, it’s not unheard of for ‘lower level’ Send children to be placed in ‘independent provision’ because their Send was not as ‘lower level’ as previously considered.

Driving Excellence in Schools Recommendations includes ‘gathering and analysing data to identify schools that are not meeting the ‘floor’ standards’ defined by the DFE.’

Let’s not do that. Bristol City Council does not have a good relationship with data. It’s often wrong, missing or confusing.

Bristol City Council Data Issues

More Data Issues

Enough with the Data Issues

And as for the rest of the report, let’s just keep it in ‘draft’ format.

Whilst the report may not have been used to change procedure at the council it’s clearly had eyes. The pages that were released contain some arguably contentious issues. Peopletoo is also a favourite go-to for reports at Bristol City Council, having been commissioned several times to report on aspects of the city’s health, education or social care.

A comment of recommendation from Director of People at Bristol City Council, Jacqui Jensen has been included an endorsement section on the Peopletoo website.

Jensen writes: ‘I have worked with Peopletoo in two local authorities on a range of projects. The team are extremely professional in their engagement with a wide range of skills, experience and knowledge that they apply dependent on situation and context. In all commissions, Peopletoo have carried out the work efficiently and effectively. The engagement with our staff and the Peopletoo team provide real benefit, not just in the work undertaken, but in sharing of ideas, potential directions that can be explored in other areas of work and providing contacts from other local authorities. An added unexpected advantage is that working with Peopletoo has been a learning opportunity for our staff. People too are a value driven company with an ethos and culture that is supportive to the aims of the public sector.’

It’s likely the most interesting part of the Peopletoo report is buried in the close-to –50 redacted pages. Now to get hold of the report about special schools in Bristol that Bristol City Council has tried to bury. I bet that one’s a real eye-opener.

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