Bristol School Place Crisis For Send Continues Whilst Emergency Begins in Mainstream

Bristol School Place Crisis:

The crisis of Bristol special school places is something we’ve been continuing to report and campaign on over the 18 months.

At an Extraordinary People Scrutiny Commission on Monday 03 February, the Ofsted and CQC Send Inspection report was up for discussion. The lack of special school places and provision for children with Send was a major theme running through the morning’s proceedings.

During the meeting, Councillor Tim Rippington asked: “If we’ve had such a backlog in EHCPs, that we don’t know what the requirements are because the EHCPs aren’t in place, what impact has that had in our planning for provision and do we know this year for example, what the mismatch is? Because it’s all very well to get your EHCP completed, but if that provision is then stated in the EHCP is not there, it’s almost a worthless piece of paper. So do we know what the mismatch is between the requirements of the EHCPs that have been backlogged and need to be ready by September and how much provision there actually is.

Director of Education and Skills at Bristol City Council, Alison Hurley said: “Part of the work that we are undertaking is to do a full review of sufficiency across so the city so looking particularly at the use of alternative learning provision what the need is at the moment, what the gaps are looking at hospital education and looking at special schools, so what we need to do is make sure that we have identified the current need, anticipated the future need and then made some decisions in terms of what or how to increase that provision so that we don’t end up with a lot of EHCP plans with recommendations that we can’t deliver.”

A review will be starting in two weeks time with the Director saying: “we’ve really got to get a very clear sense of what the current issue is and what that’s going to need going forward.”

Sally Kent Bristol Independent Send Community
Sally Kent Bristol Independent Send Community

In an unusual step during the emotional meeting, the chair allowed short comments from the public gallery after hearing Alison Hurley, Jacqui Jensen and principle educational psychologist Vikki Jervis respond to questions from the scrutiny panel.

Sally Kent of Bristol Independent Send Community said: “Bristol currently has just short of 3000 EHCPs (education health and care plans) or there abouts. We’ve just heard that there’s another 500  coming through the system. You have 8 new EPs (educational psychologists) but not coming until September. That’s just going to get bigger and bigger and bigger. Statistically, 42 per cent of children with EHCP plans are in special schools. This is beyond a critical crisis now, this is an emergency. 42 per cent of approximately 500 children or if only 300 of them are are issued plans – which is likely to be more – where are these children going to be placed? There’s no school places. The bomb has gone off and everyone’s quietly stepping around it. What is happening?”

Chair of the People Scrutiny Commission, Councillor Claire Hiscott promised to take the issue up.

After prolonged campaigning by parents following a successful Judicial Review in the summer of 2018, Send has become much higher up all council agendas. At Budget Scrutiny Meeting for the Resources Scrutiny Commission on Thursday 06 February 2020, Councillor Clive Stevens raised the issue of specialist school places.

Jacqui Jensen – Executive Director of People -replied: “There was something that we’d been talking about that did come up in the deep dive in scrutiny the other day and that was about resource centres. We know that we’ve had a bulge go through our primary school population, through our schools population that’s starting to move through now, which would indicate that we have some capacity in our primary schools going forward. There was a really eloquent piece of evidence given by a few of our heads talking about resource bases in schools pre-academisation and how well they worked. I think we’re getting to a point where there’s a willingness because the pupil population going down for schools to start to explore that again.

“And so Alison [Hurley] does intend to start to have conversations about very specific things around clusters of schools or around areas where we could look at some specialisms for children who have got special educational needs and disabilities to try and keep them for the most part in a mainstream school, but in a resource base and if there are certain things that are being done in the main body of the school they could join it. They could join it at playtime but would go back to the resource base to learn. So that we think is probably the most, one of the most profitable ways for us to look at increasing places for children with Send.”

But this was something that had already been raised at Bristol Schools Forum as early as Tuesday 02 April 2019. Following a presentation on Place Planning by former Education Director Alan Stubbersfield, forum member Christine Townsend, asked about utilising the empty mainstream classroom spaces in primary schools now the ‘bulge’ year had passed.


Bristol schools forum

With hundreds of empty primary school places becoming available in the city, putting those buildings to productive use, especially considering a lack of Send places was an issue raised.

There was a predicted shortfall of 150 secondary places for 2020, with extra places created by asking mainstream secondaries to increase their published admissions number (PAN).

Alan Stubbersfield noted that 2020 would be a ‘challenging year’ as the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) had delayed the opening of the new central East school.

Whilst special school places have passed the point of emergency and have been in crisis for some time causing many Send children to be out of formal education for years, an emergency has gradually been growing in mainstream as the primary school bulge passes through secondary admissions.

Bristol Brunel Academy, City Academy and Bristol Metropolitan Academy were three East Bristol schools forced to go over PAN in 2019 to meet growing need.

This was an issue raised by BS5 Secondary Education Forum this week, a group formed of concerned parents and educationalists worried about the impact of a secondary places shortfall in 2021. Jenny Grinsted -of BS5 Secondary Forum said the shortfall in places for BS5 East Central was ‘about 220’.

The public meeting took place on Wednesday 05 February, to address the issues behind the late opening of the planned 1,600 place Oasis Temple Quarter School.


“It doesn’t make us look good as a council,” Anna Keen admitted to the hall full of parents, press and teachers, as it was revealed that the new school was unlikely to open in temporary accommodation until December 2021 in a ‘best case scenario’ and full construction complete by September 2023.

The site of the new school has been hampered by being ‘tethered’ to a development which includes a school, university, office and residential space. Historic England has expressed concerns over the scale of the development and the Environment agency fears over flooding. Due to health and safety issues, it was found not to be possible to untether the application because it would not be safe to educate children in the middle of a building site. “We need to plan what else we can do that is of a good quality,” Anna Keen said.

Bristol mayor Marvin Rees addressed the hall, but was unable to answer questions, cutting the night short due to ‘childcare issues’.



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