Bristol Schools’ Forum:
The future of Bristol’s education into the next decade, was a subject discussed at Bristol Schools’ Forum this week, with the Executive Director for People, Dr Jacqui Jensen presenting her Bristol in the 20’s System-Wide Transformation of Bristol’s Education Provision.
The document, described by members during the course of discussion in comments ranging from ‘aspirational’ and ‘wildly ambitious’ looked at what learning for the 20’s would be. Describing Bristol as ambitious, growing, imaginative, polarised, stretched and engaged, it also comments on difficulties faced including ‘known challenges’ with SEND, attendance, performance gaps and Ofsted outcomes. It asks for investment in Bristol.
In the presentation, Jensen described the One City Plan as “really ambitious for children” which will take the city up to 2050, with the time frame to achieve its goals being movable.
The One City Plan ambition for the 20’s is included, which states:
• No child with special educational needs or disabilities segregated at school
• Support provided where necessary to close the attainment gap
• The best start in life, gaining the support and skills to thrive and prosper in adulthood
• School engagement and attendance improved, as with the development of young people’s life skills
• Improved support for children with Special Educational Needs and Looked After Children
• Improved post 16 offer developed with clear learning, employment and skills pathways.
A six step change for Bristol education included basics such as children being able to attend a good or outstanding local school, children with Send having their needs met and placing the child at the forefront of their learning.
Jensen was at Bristol Schools’ Forum to talk about how they could work together to “support each other and collaborate around some system wide transformation,” in Bristol’s education system as well as work on things that “wrap around” education in the city.
She called Bristol “ambitious” with “lots of really good things”. Jensen described the city as having “voice” and the people in it having voice. “Sometimes they’re challenging, they’ve got high expectations of us,” she said, although acknowledged that some communities in Bristol did not have high expectations of the council, saying that they had to be ambitious for those people who did not have the resources to be ambitious for themselves.
Describing the positive aspects of Bristol’s education, she praised the skills in the system, collaborative partnerships, schools, school standards and Bristol Learning City.
“We did have challenges,” she went on to say. “Perhaps the most obvious one this week when we’ve had the announcement of our Send inspection and the challenges we have across the system with children who’ve got special educational needs and disabilities. And attendance, we have a performance gaps. We know that we’ve got difficulties around fixed term exclusion. And we have difficulty around some of the Ofsted outcomes,” she continued.
She talked about the “different cultural shift” which would happen under the new Ofsted inspection framework and the investment this would need to support schools rather than experience it as a “shock or trauma”.
In terms of what was happening at the council, Jensen said they were restructuring the middle tier, reinstating the Head of Service post for Send, which will now be called the Head of Service for Accessible City. The leadership for Send’s future “runs right through the organisation.”
There will also be a Head of Service for Inclusion “so that inclusion runs right through the heart of what we do”.
The Head of Equality and Inclusion will be tasked with bringing to life Bristol City Council’s Equality and Inclusion Policy and Strategy for 2018 to 2023.
“A real focus on inclusion, underpinning” the plan would give the new Director of Education and Skills, Alison Hurley, who is taking over from interim post holder Alan Stubbersfield, “the right skillset that she can deploy to enable us to deliver what we need to deliver”.
When it came to the issues with Bristol Send, Jensen said: “An ambition that children with Send have their needs met more seamlessly, we know that we’re not doing that now. We know there are real challenges for us and how we process, coordinate, assess and deliver a plan for children for children with Send. We know that we need to turn that around, we know that we need to support you in schools more to enable us to work together to make sure that these children, who are really vulnerable children get what they need from us.
“I know that my service isn’t delivering that in the way I would like it at the moment and that is not for the want of focus and drive in trying to change how it is. It’s been a real challenge. We’ve probably hit rock bottom in terms of parents’ experiences and our intention is to pull back from that. We absolutely intend to turn this around and are working very, very, very hard to make that happen.”
Attending local schools was another priority mentioned, wanting parents choosing to send their child to their nearest school. “We want to be in a position to support that,” she said. Raising Send again, Jensen said “We want to commission the right support for them” and that the assessment “understands their children”.
Of the entire transformation plan, she said “We think it’s doable, it won’t happen in the next twelve months, I’m sure you can see that, but we’re ambitious to make a difference and we want to work with you, get you on board with us, collaborate together to drive this so that our children do get a positive experience across the board.”
The plan was thrown open to questions to the members of Bristol Schools’ Forum, with a selection of questions and responses below:
Schools’ Forum Member One: “The one thing that is not mentioned and has a big impact is poverty. Children in poor areas are ten times as likely to have a social worker as children in well off areas. And the division in the city between the poor areas are the more well off areas for a long time has been really stark. It’s often described as two cities. And I know that where some of us work we can see actually, poverty affects people’s ability to engage with services. Social workers say someone doesn’t turn up for appointments oh they’re refusing help. Actually they’re not refusing help, they just can’t get there. And when they’re being angry, they’re being oppositional, they’re being confrontational. It’s that whole cultural kind of approach to poverty and the people that are really struggling I think is what has to change…”
Jacqui Jensen: “You speak to my heart. I completely agree with you. When we look at the performance that we see, the data that we have around families in south Bristol and the challenges that they’ve got it’s absolutely stark. The difference between the effects of poverty in south Bristol to other localities in Bristol is quite stark. That’s what we say about poverty everywhere. It’s absolutely manifest in south Bristol. It breaks your heart doesn’t it when you see little ones coming to school hungry and when you see the amount of families we’ve got who are using food banks. If I tell you there’s a significant amount of work being done to services locally for us to consolidate our services… I don’t know if you know about this but we’ve got police PCSOs, the DWP benefit agency, we’ve got domestic violence staff, we’ve got child and adult mental health workers sitting alongside our staff working together the try to support families. We’ve reduced children coming into care by 100 in the last two years, the care population by supporting families through intensive work rather than social workers just taking their kids off them. We’ve reduced children in need by 6 per cent by supporting families earlier and we’ve got 100 less children on child protection plans in the last three years…
Schools’ Forum Member Two: “I’m a little bit confused because…”
“It’s more to do with coming back to, actually to Send and having to spend the best part of four to five years of money leaking out from the support for those young people and their families. And, facing quite a big deficit within the top of the high needs element. That’s going to increase from the papers that have put to us tonight. And this is aspirational which is great but we were there with Send (indicates high level with his hand). We’re now down here . (indicates low level with his hand) after the last three four years of some official cuts some unofficial… How are we going to get there (indicates high level with his hand) where’s that going to come from? How are we going to do that?”
Jacqui Jensen: “Are we going to get back up there? Not with the level of government funding we have now. We’ve got a fantastic piece of legislation We’ve had this wonderful piece of legislation crafted by civil servants who had absolutely the right mindset for our children who have got additional needs… the funding the council got was £365k for the Send reforms when actually it will have cost somewhere in the region of £1.4M to put the mechanisms around the assessment, the coordination, the plans, the reviews and everything else together to enable that to work efficiently. We’re talking a huge amount of money, money that wasn’t put there…”
Schools’ Forum Member Three: “It sounds like wonderful aspirations, wonderful, but it’s like a four-year-old’s Christmas list with nobody to spend any money on. It’s great, but it doesn’t do what we need it to do. It’s great having a plan, but there’s no delivery there. It’s just disappointment. We’ve been talking about lots of things for years and it’s not…”
Jacqui Jensen:“Can I ask you are you disappointed in what I’ve presented is that what you mean?”
Schools’ Forum Member Three: “It’s not saying anything we don’t want to hear, but it’s not getting there. That’s the disappointment, but it’s a disappointment about that I don’t know to what purpose you are laying out a plan that can’t be delivered at the moment.”
Jacqui Jensen: “Well, I’d like us to collaborate on how we can deliver that plan. I’d like us to look at how we in part support each other with the funding of the plan. I know the council has kept some money towards it but I’d like us to work together to see how we can jointly deliver the plan. ‘What I want to gauge from you as a group and then Alison (Alison Hurley the new Director, Education and Skills at Bristol City Council) will have a similar conversation in the … is how much do you want it? Is this something you will buy into? Is this something you can support? Is this something Schools’ Forum can support? …”
Schools’ Forum Member Three: “I think you understand what’s needed, I don’t think any of us would argue with the wish list, the aspirations. Wonderful. But, the figures that need to be attached to the order of priority, because it can’t all be done immediately, so order of priority and finances attached to each and then I think we’ve got something we can work on. It’s all very well talking about what we want to do, but to do it, need the order, need the money attached to each item and how that’s going to be delivered, other wise we just talk about things we agree on.”
Jacqui Jensen: “You’ve said something I love to hear, the plan was to bring it here, have a conversation and see what you felt like and then perhaps come back in November with a worked out plan with some figures around it.”
Schools’ Forum Member Three: “We can maybe talk about figures can’t we?”
Jacqui Jensen: “Is that something you might be open to?”
Schools’ Forum Member Three: “But there’s no guarantee that there’s any money in the pot to give it but unless we’ve got some figures to it we can’t even talk about it.”
Schools’ Forum Member Four: “This what you’ve gone through contains a lot of the things that most of us will have as a base expectation of how things should be and should have been in the final plan ten, twenty however many years ago with a few things chucked in that might be different as time goes on, data and the odd kind of buzz word.
“Why is this different to what has gone before? Surely the principles in here should be what everyone’s been aiming for for the history of time. Why is the launch of this future plan going to be different? How is it going to be different?”
Jacqui Jensen: “I think I would turn it on its head a bit and say I absolutely agree with you, it should the norm, why isn’t it? And it’s not. It might be everybody’s aspiration, it might be the thing that gets everybody out of bed in the morning but the reality is, when you look at the data, when you look at the local authority data matrix that the DfE looks at, that’s not what it sees. It sees a different picture of how we perform across the education system. So absolutely, I absolutely agree with you. It should be modified and amplified and embedded in everything we do. It should be part of our normal working expectations. But it isn’t. It’s not for everybody and it’s not for all. And it’s certainly not for every child. And part of what we need to do is actually understand what the system looks like. We need to understand it is a very uneven picture across the city and in a sense your saying is that we need to be a bit more ambitious. I would be happy with that. I would be happy with being really ambitious. We would have to fund it. We would have to work towards it together. Whatever we end up with I really want it to be co-produced. I want you to own it as much as the council owns it. So if you feel there is more better that we can do, then let’s do that, let’s think about that let’s look at the reciprocity would be needed for that to happen. But I promise you Simon, I would not back away from it.”
Schools’ Forum Member Four: “I suppose I’m not saying that this isn’t enough, I think we’d all be really happy if this was achievable, I think the point I’m trying to make is that this should always be the case and people previously would have wanted this to be the case. The question I’m really posing is what’s going to be different? I’ve only been in Bristol for a set number of years. People would have wanted these things and I’m sure in the past, someone sat in a similar situation and presented a future of what we wanted to achieve. The question I’m posing is why is it going to be different? Even the time I’ve spent in Bristol, it’s gone through changes, even the last ten years. There was a point where every school was good or better, certainly from a secondary perspective. That’s changed even in the time I’ve been at St Mary Redcliffe three and a half years. I’m asking you, how are you going to deliver this that’s going to be different? I know that money’s going to be a factor.”
Jacqui Jensen: “I can answer that really quickly… We can’t do it together with everybody pushing against it, nothing will change. What I talked about was mutual accountability, reciprocity, collaboration, co-production and us walking the walk together. Including supporting that with investment.
“I won’t deliver it on my own, the council won’t deliver it on their own and individual schools won’t deliver it on their own, Mats won’t deliver it on their own. If we work together, if we have a clear programme with clear outcome and intents where we measure them, where we have a board that oversees it, we’ve got a programme manager sitting here listening to the conversation side of it, how is she going to make this real? If we decided to go for it how is she going to make it real? How is she going to hold us to account.
“I think we need to have it very clearly laid out at the start. What are our aims, how quickly do we intend to achieve them, how are we going to support each other with them? Who are the key people who are going to be the overseers of it? Who are the people who are going to be driving it? And what would it look like if it works? And then drive ourselves to that. And I think that is what will make it different. But it will have to be collaboration and it will have to be a small group of people working on behalf of the whole saying this is what it’s going to take to drive this and how do we get buy-in from everybody else?”
Schools’ Forum Member Four: “I think we could go back and forth for a long time and people don’t want to listen to my voice. I guess my task or challenge for next time is or whoever we’re presenting to is to add some sort of substance or background to a lot of – forgive me – buzzwords that are being used. You’re talking about reciprocity, collaboration but we can all use those words it’s making them mean something. I guess my question is when I say how are we going to do this, it’s what that is actually going to look like in a meaningful way. Anyone – we’ve never met, I feel like I’m attacking you – anyone can come in here and fire off some wonderful kind of words around what we’re going to to do, it’s about the point of making it happen.
Jacqui Jensen: “My challenge back to you then Simon, you’re going to be in the room getting this written down, working alongside us, making it happen. You’ve got a lot of really good things to say. You come and join us.”
Schools’ Forum Member Five: “We’ve got an S e n d guy who’s been screaming at us for five years because of a lack of funding in early doors. All of us have got to support children before they get any funding from the city council. By the time they get two or three years behind, we’ve already been dealing with it. Those children are five years older than when I first started here talking about a child who needs support. In five years’ time that child will have left school so we can’t wait.
Jacqui Jensen: “I absolutely agree with you…”
Schools’ Forum Member Five: “It’s too much words, I’m sorry it’s too much words. We just need a list of actions this, this, this, this, this and you’re the expert do it.”
Jacqui Jensen: “Who’s the expert?”
Schools’ Forum Member Five: “You’re the expert. You’re the expert. You tell us what we need to do, tell us what needs to be done…”
Descends into interruption
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