Bristol SEN Team EHCP Recruitment Drive:
Nearly twenty EHCP related jobs for the Bristol SEN team are being advertised by Bristol City Council this week, despite reassurances to parents back in the summer that these posts were not needed.
The job adverts that went live on Tuesday 14 October 2019, include six assessment co-ordinators, eleven senior assessment co-ordinators / senior inclusion officers and one assessment support officer for Send.
The Send vacancies are being pushed at a jobs fair at City Hall this week. A press release from Bristol City Council states that they are ‘currently recruiting for SEND senior assessment coordinators and SEND Senior Inclusion Officers and other posts, if you are interested come along and get some info on next steps’.
At the Bristol Parent Carer’s Annual Participation Event in June this year, Bristol City Council’s Executive Director of Adults, Jacqui Jensen joined Interim Director of Education Learning and Skills Improvement Alan Stubbersfield to talk about the future of education in the city.
A parent carer asked about promises made by Bristol mayor Marvin Rees, in the wake of the Send Motion at full council in September 2018.
“We were promised 20 caseworkers in September by the mayor,” the parent said in address to both Jensen and Stubbersfield.
“We had it watered down to 12 but now it seems six, six caseworkers is that right? You’ve been coming up with some kind of strategy or investigating what needs to happen and all the time the statutory time frame for the EHCP process has just gone out of the window. There’s parents waiting 30, 40, 50 weeks while you guys have been deciding what needs to be done rather than putting things into action. Do you think we’re getting good value for money from your positions as Director and Director of service? Have we had value for money this year from you guys?
“We were promised 20 caseworkers to try and make things easier for annual reviews and to bring the council back into legal compliance with the 20 week time frame, it’s not happened and you say you’ve had problems recruiting we watched the recruitment page on Bristol City Council. You’ve not been recruiting caseworkers since January. You’ve given up recruiting.”
In response, Alan Stubbersfield said: “In my view the 20 was not the right answer so whilst the Mayor was entitled to rely on the officer advice he had last year, the officer advice to members has changed through me. I’m responsible for that. I said that five minutes ago. I do not think that 20 caseworkers was going to solve all the problems. It needed a range of things so the money we are expecting to be committing to solving this problem is much more than the cost of 20 caseworkers. It involves educational psychologists who happen to be very expensive, but happen to be very skilled and very important in the assessment process, social workers and so on and so on. So the outcome in the end is a greater commitment of resource.”
In a letter to Bristol Independent Send Community (BISC) back in September 2018, Marvin Rees wrote: ‘As you highlighted, the council is facing a significant challenge in managing the increasing demand for Education Health and Care needs assessments and annual reviews. In response to this we have taken steps to make staff workloads more manageable and improve the service for families. We are increasing the SEND casework team’s capacity by over 100 per cent – an increase of 20 posts and recruitment is now beginning so we hope to see positive changes within the next couple of months.’
But by December 2018, the Bristol City Council – Adults, Children and Education 2018/19 – Budget Monitor Report whittled this down to ‘up to 20 additional temporary posts’ stating in the report: ‘Additional Educational Needs. Following the judicial review on SEND in August 2018, additional capacity has been introduced to deal with workload levels, using reserves. In principle, up to 20 additional temporary posts will be recruited for six months to March 2019 at a cost of up to £0.340m. There is no funding for these additional posts beyond March 2019, if all that funding is spent by then. A plan for resource management for 2019/20 will be needed either to revert to established levels of staffing, or to reflect any unavoidable requirements in the service and budget planning process for that year.’
But if the currently advertised 18 jobs sounds like Good News to Bristol Send parents, when the council recruited for caseworkers in the past, it took a long time to get them in post. Back at the June 2019 Send event, Jensen described the EHCP caseworker recruitment process as ‘really, really hard’. Whilst funding of £380,000 was given in October 2018 to recruit additional staff, the official recruitment started in November 2018, lasted until January and then took until May 2019 to get six caseworkers into post.
Whilst Send has continued to remain high in national media coverage, the situation in Bristol has not improved during 2019, with fears from parents and carers that it could be even worse than 2018.
At People Scrutiny this week, Jacqui Jensen’s report for quarter 1 of 2019/20 found that the percentage of Final EHCPs issued within 20 weeks – including exception cases – was ‘well below’ target. The data provided showed 2 of 169 EHCPs were issued within statutory timescales, although this was verbally corrected during the meeting to 4 of 169 due to a mistake with the data published for the meeting.
Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission launched their joint Bristol SEND inspection at the beginning of the month, with the outcome of the inspection due soon.
In a public statement submitted to Ofsted as part of the inspection, BISC wrote: ‘So far in 2019 fewer than 24 per cent of EHCP needs assessments have been completed within the statutory 20 weeks. BISC is aware of families who have waited in excess of 40 or 50 weeks for plans to be issued. When plans are eventually issued they are often of poor quality, with little quantification and specification of provision. This means that families are left with no other option but to appeal plans in order to secure the correct and legally compliant level of support and funding. The first tier SEND tribunal service (SENDIST) is inundated with cases across the spectrum of appeal types. Thus, even children in Bristol who have EHCPs issued may wait many months to receive the standard of provision required in order to have any hope of achieving agreed outcomes. The effects of poorly written and funded EHCPs is palpable in Bristol, with educational outcomes for children at Key stages 2 and 4 continuing to decline and being below the national average.’
Send was a priority concern at People Scrutiny this week, with Councillor Tim Kent for Hengrove and Whitchurch Park registering his ‘concern’ about the recruitment process with the past promises unmet yet had clearly been needed.
“Today 18 jobs were advertised on the website, as was pointed out in public statements, that’s good to see,” he said. “But of course, a year ago we agreed that we were going to employ 20 people and we never did. My concern is, will we get those people in place, will we get them soon and will they help us turn this ship around?”
Stubbersfield replied that “recruitment and retention in the SEN team was difficult,” describing the process as “a continual hole in our heads”.
“One of the issues we’ve had has been about the nature of funding and contracts being short term. We aim to put that right by advertising permanent posts which are more attractive to people and we can hold onto them, train them and keep them.”
He went on to explain that a reorganisation of the SEN team will see two teams working in parallel, one team to deal with new assessments and one to deal with annual reviews.
Jensen added that “educational psychologists are really, really hard to recruit” with the council struggling to fill additional posts since March 2019.
She said: “We’re looking at various other ways we can get the educational psychology need met rather than just recruitment. We’re doing lots of different things to try and see if we can get educational psychology done until we can get people up in post.”
Talking about staff retention in a response to a question about the relationship between the SEN team and schools, Jensen said: “We recruited to the team 8 posts earlier in the year, out of those 8, across the whole team, we’ve had five leave, two resignations and one sick. So we’re chasing ourselves to keep up with our recruitment.”
In a Draft Health and Wellbeing Plan 2019-20 presented to Bristol City Council’s HR Committee in September 2019, 58,712 working days were found to be lost due to employee absence, with 23.22 per cent due to stress anxiety or depression.
Only 50 per cent of respondents to a council staff engagement survey agreed or strongly agreed that Bristol City Council is a workplace ‘that supports good mental health and wellbeing’. A 25 per cent of employees neither agreed or disagreed with this and 25 per cent disagreed completely.
Chair of People Scrutiny, councillor Claire Hiscott said she was “disappointed” by the “tone” of the Send report which was “not great,” especially the challenging of the legality of the 2018 Judicial Review, which had been critical of the council.
She said:”I would like to see going forward much better communication and a tone that is much more conciliatory on a very highly charged and emotional issue. Please, please going forward, can you be very careful. These are families and to see in black and white you challenging the correctness of judicial reviews did not sit well. And I’m sure that wasn’t your intention, but as you can see, I am pretty upset about it.” Continuing she said “I hope that as we go forward, we will see better communication and information coming from this department.”
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