Bristol Ofsted Send Inspection What it Says and Official Responses

Bristol Ofsted Send Inspection

‘Significant areas of weakness’ found by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) during a joint local area SEND inspection in Bristol, left inspectors with ‘significant concerns about the effectiveness’ of Bristol City Council.

bristol city council ofsted letter

The inspection took place between the 30 September and 04 October 2019, with the report delayed for public release until 20 December due to restrictions caused by the general election.

According to its website, Bristol City Council received the report on Tuesday 17 December 2019, with a statutory duty to publish the findings within five working days.



Without acknowledging statutory duties, Bristol mayor Marvin Rees’ said that the decision to publish before Ofsted and the CQC was made ‘because we feel it’s important that the inspectors’ findings are known and discussed before the Christmas break’. This is despite Christmas Eve being a working day and would come ‘within’ the statutory five working days.

The end of the joint local area SEND inspection in Bristol will have concluded with a final feedback meeting. This would have involved the lead Her Majesty’s Inspector (HMI) Jen Southall, informing Bristol City Council and health services about issues found. This would include the local area’s effectiveness in identifying children and young people with SEND, assessing and meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND and improving outcomes for these children and young people.

The lead HMI will also have discussed areas of significant concern that would require the local area to submit a WSOA.

The publication of the final Send inspection report has been mired with some controversy. The former Interim Director of Education in Bristol, Alan Stubbersfield, was non committal about post inspection findings when questioned during People Scrutiny Commission on Monday 14 October 2019. At this time, the council would know exactly what would be in the report.

alan stubbersfield


General election purdah then started on Wednesday 06 November 2019 with Ofsted announcing that during the pre-election period, ‘in line with Cabinet Office guidelines’ they would ‘delay’ publication of research reports until after the election including local area special educational needs and disabilities (LA SEND) provision.

The final Send inspection report although ready to be published from Wednesday 13 November 2019 had to wait until after the December 12 election.

The biggest clanger came when Marvin Rees let slip comments made in the report in one of his blog posts on 05/12/19 during the pre-election period.

Councillor Tim Kent, Hengrove and Whitchurch Park Ward, questioned the mayor about the post at Member Forum on 17/12/19.

Kent asked: ‘On 5th December you published a blog post entitled ‘Women in Leadership’. In this post you
stated: “In fact, even on the challenge of SEND, the recent inspection said that while Bristol was not where it should be (a consequence of both local and national failures that have been building for many years), it is since Anna became the lead that the green shoots of recovery began to appear.”

Could you confirm which recent report you were quoting from and can we see this report in full?

Rees replied:

‘I’m delighted you’ve raised my blog, demonstrating its growing reach. Also, you provided a perfect opportunity for me to repeat the fact that historically Local Government has been dominated by white men and we’ve reaped the consequences. In my cabinet we have 5 women and four men with one woman as Deputy Mayor. Between me and my cabinet we have 13 school aged children meaning we can see the city through parents’ eyes and that we face the same challenges as many of our citizens in balancing work and parental responsibilities. It is this structure of leadership reflecting gender, race and class that has meant we have prioritised and delivered on:

A child friendly city;
A Children’s Charter;
Celebrating children in care;
Building new schools;
Period Friendly;
School streets

The inference I used, in paraphrasing the green shoots of recovery, relates to the findings of the draft Ofsted report. The final report, and its findings, will be published by Ofsted shortly.’

The report was finally released to the general public on Friday 20 December. The findings in the report were so bad  that Bristol City Council will have to submit a Written Statement of Action (WSOA) within 70 days of receiving its original pre-publication letter.

Ofsted and the CQC will revisit Bristol in around 18 months time to see if sufficient progress addressing areas of weakness is being made.

What Did The Report Find?
The report found that the 2014 Special Education Needs (SEN) reforms had not been implemented by Bristol fast enough. The report criticised ‘significant turbulence in the leadership and governance of the local area’ which caused ‘widespread weaknesses’ identifying, assessing and meeting the needs of children and young people with Send.

It said that ‘some’ outcomes had improved, but there is ‘little evidence the key outcomes for children and young people with SEND have improved as a result of the implementation of the SEND reforms in Bristol’.

On Achievement 
Leaders were found not to have tackled the underachievement of those with Send, with the standards reached being lower than those seen nationally by the end of key stages 1, 2 and 4. This was especially so for those with an EHCP and no child with an EHCP achieved the expected standard in the 2018 phonics screening check.

The Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) process was found to be ‘ineffective’ with plans ‘not fit for purpose’. The quality of plans is ‘disturbingly poor’ with many plans containing gaps, do not reflect the child or young person’s needs or are out of date. Ofsted says there are ‘extensive delays’ in draft EHCPs being finalised. Plans are not being put together by health, education and social care working effectively together which is resulting in the child named in the plan ‘unlikely to have their needs met’.

Young people moving into post 18 provision do not have EHCPs which reflect outcomes that are relevant or meaningful’.

On Health
Draft EHCPs are not routinely sent to the health professionals who have contributed to the process, leaving them unable to accept or challenge the content. Final plans are also not sent meaning that health do not have a record of need and information in the plans will not inform future health care planning.

The report states ‘Quality assurance processes across health disciplines are weak.’ EHCPs ‘do not include enough information about children’s health and their wishes about health’. The health and care contributions to EHCPs are not making clear the outcomes for children, with their voices and experiences ‘not always clearly articulated’. Some health practitioners reported that some children had specifically asked not to have some health interventions in the future, but this was not being included in plans.

Moving from paediatric autism services to adult autism services was found to be ‘difficult’ due to differences in the service. ‘More work’ must be done between services to make transitions smoother and offer ‘equitable’ service provision to improve outcomes for young people.

Absence and Exclusion
Leaders across the council and education were criticised for not tackling with ‘sufficient urgency’ high numbers of fixed term exclusions and persistent absence of children with Send in schools and other settings. Ofsted reported that the ‘negative impact’ of exclusions on those involved along with their families is ‘extensive’.

Ofsted and the CQC report that ‘local leaders do not challenge school leaders well enough when there is evidence that they are not inclusive in their approach.’

Difficulties with Accessing Support 
Parents and carers were found not to know about the Local Offer and what is available for them to access, with families ‘overwhelmingly’ condemning the Send system in the city because of the ‘opaque and unfair’ processes.

The identification of children and young people with Send has not been ‘timely or accurate’ and improvements made by the council to tackle this are ‘not yet impacting on children and young people’.

Children and young people told Ofsted themselves that when it came to their social and emotional health needs, it had to get to ‘crisis point’ before they could access help.

Staff in mainstream schools are not receiving effective Send training and children said that ‘too often’ the staff in their mainstream school ‘do not see past their disability’.  School staff were said to have a ‘blanket view’ of what it meant to have Send.

Ofsted and the CQC recognised the difficult lengths parents had to go to getting support putting in place, acknowledging that it was ‘a fight’ and that families are resorting to paying for therapy assessments and solicitors to get their case heard. They were concerned that many parents and carers were ‘isolated’ and not able to ‘access or challenge’ the system due to their own educational needs, a lack of funding or having English as a second language’.

Lack of Specialist Places
The failings in the Send system has contributed to a ‘lack of parental confidence’ and increased need for specialist provision. The report notes that the consequence of this is that some children are placed in specialist provisions when their needs could be met in mainstream with the ‘necessary support’. This causes the knock-on effect of special schools being over capacity, with children who need those places not able to access them.

The key findings concluded in the report upon which Bristol City Council must submit a WSOA are:

– The lack of accountability of leaders at all levels, including school leaders

– The inconsistencies in the timeliness and effectiveness of the local area’s arrangements for the identification and assessment of children and young people with SEND

– The dysfunctional EHC plan process and inadequate quality of EHC plans

– The underachievement and lack of inclusion of children and young people with SEND, including the high rates of persistent absenteeism and fixed term exclusions’

– The fractured relationships with parents and carers, lack of co production and variable engagement and collaboration.

Local Area Send Inspection Report for Bristol

The publication of the report triggered the official responses below from Bristol Independent Send Community, Bristol City Council and Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees.

Bristol Independent Send Community’s Statement in Response to the Bristol City Councils Ofsted Decision Letter 20/12/19

Bristol Independent Send Community, has been campaigning for equal access to education for children with Special Educational Needs and Disability (Send) for two years. Every day, we hear from more families whose lives are being damaged by a system in Bristol that does not follow the law, is inefficient and lacks accountability and transparency.

The failings come at every level in the council including Bristol schools. The effects on families having to deal with this is devastating both emotionally and financially. It’s not just about a lack of funding but about the culture at the heart of strategic leadership.

The findings in the joint Ofsted and Care Quality Commission (CQC) Send inspection, do not come as a surprise to us and they certainly won’t come as a surprise to Bristol City Council. But, the fact that nobody is surprised by the comments raised by Ofsted shows that the reality was known and allowed to continue unchecked.

It is shocking that the First Tier Send Tribunal is now essentially built into the EHCP process. What should be a means of redress in exceptional cases is now becoming the norm.

Families often have to force the council to carry out a needs assessment due to unacceptable and unlawful gatekeeping. They have to force contribution of professionals such as occupational therapy, force the council to issue a plan, force them to specify and quantify provision and force them to name a suitable school place due issuing children and young people with disturbingly poor EHCPs.

During the time it takes to secure provision, many children and young people are unable to access education and the lost learning can go on for years.

It costs time and money to force a lawfully written EHCP out of Bristol. Parents and carers who lack the financial capital, the social peer support or do not have English as a first language are all at greater disadvantage and struggle to obtain the services and education that is their children’s legal right. These families are and remain isolated.

The system pits parents against each other and schools against parents in a zero sum game where everyone loses. Parents in Bristol report being made to feel ashamed by their school for securing EHCP provision because the funding is directed away from the rest of the children in the school. This indicates that SendCos and school senior leadership need additional training and support to help them with their lack of understanding surrounding the system. This along with many of the inspections findings are points we have been raising over the last two years in letter to Mayor Rees and our four Bristol MPs

No parent should be made to feel guilty for ensuring their child is able to progress with their learning. School staff should be able to identify children with Send early and schools should be open and honest with their parents, not hide their difficulties so they are not straining the budget by making a necessary educational psychology referral.

The stress that families, children and young people are put under because of Bristol Send failures lead to relationship breakdowns, families separating, mental health breakdowns and increased strain on services such as CAMHs.

Obscene amounts of money are wasted on assessments, appeals, legal fees, Legal Aid and the Local Authority paying out for private assessments. Early intervention in the lives of children over the last ten years would have saved escalating costs including 1-1 provision, home to school transport, larger numbers of required special school places and the rising cost of the high needs block. Children who were properly supported in infant and junior school could have thrived in mainstream throughout their education instead of increasing the costs of alternative provision and out of area placements.

When a bulge year passed through the city’s junior schools, places were planned accordingly in mainstream provision. This didn’t happen for special schools. The woeful lack of planning for special school places means many children and young people are now left with no education for many months to come. Annual Reviews are delayed by years with EHCP provision no longer matching a child’s needs.

At every stage of the Send journey in Bristol, the Local Authority is dragged kicking and screaming to comply with its legal obligations. It’s forced on pain of legal action to agree to assess, assess with proper professional input, to draft fully specified and quantified plans and to implement provision.

Send should not be an afterthought, a nice thing to have, a ‘golden ticket’, it’s an integral part of education and protected in law.

The local area is required to produce and submit a Written Statement of Action to Ofsted that explains how the local area will tackle the following areas of significant weakness:

The lack of accountability of leaders at all levels, including school leaders

The inconsistencies in the timeliness and effectiveness of the local area’s arrangements for the identification and assessment of children and young people with SEND

The dysfunctional EHC plan process, and inadequate quality of EHC plans

The underachievement and lack of inclusion of children and young people with SEND, including the high rates of persistent absenteeism and fixed-term exclusions

The fractured relationships with parents and carers, lack of co-production and variable engagement and collaboration.

We want a radical culture change that can only be achieved with a fresh administration. We’ve listened to the excuses and apologies. We’ve listened to the claims of improvement. All trust and faith in the existing administration has been lost. No more excuses and no more apologies. We want action now.

We call for Mayor Rees who has been in position since 2016 to resign, under Mayor Rees leadership Bristol SEND provision has been run into the ground. There have been numerous warnings from as early as the Peer SEND review in January 2017 that there was a lack of strategic oversight. This is on his watch and he had a responsibility to act upon recommendations in that report, if he had it may have prevented this situation now being inflicted on our children and young people in Bristol.

We also call for the strategic director Jacqui Jensen to resign immediately. We have zero confidence trust or faith in her ability to grasp and tackle the crisis we face.

We demand deeds not words.

We demand Bristol City Council and Bristol schools to know the law and follow.

We demand action.

Bristol City Council’s Press Release 20/12/19 Responding to the Inspection Findings:

The main findings of the Ofsted and Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) inspection of Special Education Needs and/or Disability (SEND) services across Bristol’s local area is published today.

The report highlights areas for improvement and calls for local area partners to jointly create an action plan to deliver rapid progress and long-term change across SEND services for Bristol’s children and young people.

Councillor Helen Godwin, Cabinet Lead for Children said for too long children and young people in the city with SEND have been let down.

She said: “The challenges highlighted in the report have built up over the past nine years and been further exacerbated by a reduction in central government funding for these services.

“We share in that responsibility and despite the deep commitment of many frontline staff, we haven’t acted fast enough with our health partners and school leaders to turn SEND provision around.

“Families and carers of children and young people with SEND in Bristol feel badly let down by the service they have received. We apologise unreservedly for this and want to offer assurance that we will not rest until their children get the quality service they deserve.”

Key findings:

The report noted that the implementation of the 2014 Special Education Needs (SEN) reforms in Bristol has been too slow and fragmented. However, inspectors recognised that since 2018 there have been noticeable improvements in the leadership of SEND in the local area, but that parents, carers and children will not have seen the benefits of this improvement to date

Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) statutory processes, high numbers of fixed term exclusions and a lack of awareness of the Local Offer are key areas needing improvement. It goes on to say that the energy, enthusiasm and determination of new leaders to improve provision is palpable and that recent improvements have been made but will take time to take effect

They also responded positively to plans for a new diagnostic pathway for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) assessment, the impact this will have on assessment times and the clarity this will provide to parents and carers.
Director of Transformation for Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) Deborah El-Sayed, said: “We recognise there is a long way to go before our SEND services are the best they can be. We welcome this report from Ofsted and the CQC, which will help us to drive the change that is needed for families across our area.

“We are grateful to the children, young people and families whose experiences have informed this report, and are committed to working in partnership with Bristol City Council and others to make real and lasting improvements.

“We have already taken action in many of the areas identified by the report, including the development of our approach to Education, Health and Care plans, to ensure they are person-centred and focussed on the wishes of children and young people.

“There are also positives to build on. Inspectors praised the identification of medical needs for children in the early years, as well as the transition between children’s and adult community health services. The support available for children and young people with social, emotional, mental health and communication needs was also highlighted as a strength.

“We are building a strong partnership with Bristol City Council and community health providers – alongside children, young people, parents and carers – and are determined to ensure seamless services for everyone.”

Alison Hurley, Director for Education and Skills said: “We remain committed to continuing to transform SEND services in Bristol. The inspection team recognised the improvements in joint-working with our partners and commitment from leaders to secure improvement in our systems. We are confident that we will achieve much improved outcomes for our children and young people with special education needs and disabilities once it embeds.

“One key area where people have been let down is the waiting time for Education Health Care Plans (EHCPs). We have addressed the staff shortages that have caused this by recruiting 24 new staff to work specifically on EHCPs, for example. We will be better able to cope with demand and improve timeliness, but it will take time for these improvements to be felt by the parents and carers of children and young people with SEND in Bristol.”

Additional Information

What is SEND?

Some children and young people may require more help to learn and develop than others. If their needs are not successfully met by support in their local school or education placement, they might need to access SEND services or national statutory processes. SEND services are teams across education, health and social care for children and young people aged 0-25 who are identified by the local area as having additional or complex needs.

About the inspection

Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) carried out their joint, statutory, local area inspection of SEND over five consecutive days in September and October. However, the publication of the findings was delayed due to the general election.

A team of inspectors looked at how effectively services provided by the council, education settings and health care providers identify and meet the needs of children and young people with SEND, as well as how their outcomes can be improved.

Inspectors spoke with groups including children and young people with SEND and their parents and carers in early years, schools and post-16 education settings. They also spoke with the Bristol Parents and Carers Forum, NHS professionals at the Clinical Commissioning Group and health partners providing autism, mental health and speech and language services.

About the report

The final report was received on Tuesday 17 December and there is a statutory duty to publish the findings within five working days. You can view the report on our Local Offer website here.

What is happening now?

Bristol City Council, Education leaders and BNSSG health partners will now develop an action plan, called a (Written Statement of Action), in co-production with parents and carers of children with SEND in order to address the main findings of the report.

BCC is currently running monthly drop-ins across the city for parents, carers and young people to talk about how we can improve SEND. For more information about these events visit the Local Offer website here.

Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees’ Response on 20/12/19

Today we published the findings of the Ofsted and Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) local area inspection of Special Educational Needs and/or Disability (SEND) services across Bristol.

We made the decision to publish before Ofsted and the CQC because we feel it’s important that the inspectors’ findings are known and discussed before the Christmas break. Families and practitioners have been through enough and should have the chance to see their concerns confirmed by Ofsted and know what we intend to do to respond.

The findings are there for everyone to see and they confirm what we already know about the state of SEND services in Bristol. Over nine years of government and local failings building up have shaped a system that, for too long, has let down children, young people and families. I apologise for the part we have played and for responding too slowly to the concerns of those affected.

These challenges are well known and I won’t take up this blog going over them again – Ofsted’s report does that in detail. What I will do is make a commitment that the green shoots of recovery inspectors found to be taking root will be supported to deliver real change for children and families. It is encouraging that our city’s children centres, and the support we offer to young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities into employment through the ‘Bristol Works for Everyone’ initiative, were identified as particular strengths by inspectors. We will continue to support these vital services which make such a difference to children, young people and their families across Bristol.

This has already begun with additional investment in SEND services, with a particular focus on Education Health and Care Plans. Twenty four new staff have being recruited to work in SEND, with 23 specifically working on these plans to help tackle both the backlog of overdue assessments that need to be completed, as well as the new plans coming in. This additional resource will help us better cope with demand but the effects won’t be felt immediately by families, parents and carers.

We share this responsibility for improvement with our partners in the health and education sectors. It’s only through working together, and in co-production with parents and carers, will we fix the system locally and continue to challenge government to fix the system nationally.

Children are at the heart of this administration. We were the first city in the UK to launch a Children’s Charter and make bold commitments to develop a city where children can fulfil their potential. Across the board we are delivering for children and young people – the number of apprenticeships on offer is up, we’ve saved children’s centres, there’s more school places, fewer children are going hungry during school holidays – these are all contributing to a brighter future for most.

Whilst we hold our hands up and agree that the delivery of SEND services has been far from acceptable let’s acknowledge the positive work Cllr Godwin and Cllr Keen have undertaken along with their Cabinet colleagues, council officers, partners and communities.

We have a dedicated and committed SEND team and I am confident we have the right people in place to move forward with our plans for improvement. We will not rest until children young people, parents, carers and practitioners all have a service and the tools they need to flourish.

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