Bristol Special School Places
One thing that has become abundantly clear with regard to Send in Bristol, is that there are not enough special school places. Bristol City Council simply failed to adequately engage in a suitable building programme for special schools in line with the school population increase for mainstream.
The result of this is there are children in Bristol right now with no education because there aren’t enough places available in special schools that would meet their needs. The biggest failure in provision has been for autism, something that was predicted would happen five years ago.
The Central East area of the city is the worst for provision, with years of comments in minutes made about how problematic this is for both the children, children in the future and the council’s transport budget.
Another problem currently coming to fruition, is high numbers of children being placed long term in temporary Alternative Provision (AP) and Pupil Referral Units (PRU), because there aren’t enough special school places.
For many months now, we have tried to find out more about the creation of special school places in Bristol. It’s the Send disaster many saw coming over a series of years, yet according to years of council papers, nothing was really done to address it.
On Tuesday 02 July this year, the Education Capital Programme – SEND Capital Proposals, went to Cabinet, seeking approval to improve existing buildings at special schools as well as increase capacity, making more places available.
The evidence base in the report states ‘Population increases and increasing complexity of need mean that special schools are approaching capacity.’
In the public reports pack Review of SEND Capacity and Projection Data, it says of current capacity that ‘Feedback from Special schools and data from the Council Place Planning Team demonstrates that many of our settings are reaching capacity. Increasingly providers and the Council have to work together in innovative ways to ensure there are enough funded places within the city to cater for the young people that need them.’
What’s particularly interesting about the Review of Send Capacity and Projection Data, is that the version in the public reports pack differs to that which was in the Bristol Schools’ Forum papers for a meeting on the same date.
Bristol Schools’ Forum, Review of SEND Capacity and Projection Data, received an update about the current capacity and place numbers as of April 2019 for each specialist provision in Bristol.
The public reports pack accompanying the Cabinet meeting, did not contain this information. This is pertinent because Bristol City Council have been coy about releasing information about Send statistics through the Freedom of Information Act.
By just copy pasting the two ends of the table together, you can immediately see how many places are available in each provision and the number of additional places that have been added.
Information about schools and its students is collected by the Department for Education every year as part of an England wide school census.
For example, the school census from January 2019 showing below, indicated that there were 985 children in Bristol state funded special schools (including hospital education). It also showed there were 130 in pupil referral units- including pupils in alternative provision academies and free schools. There is also an additional category showing 195 pupils in local authority alternative provision.
Going back to the January 2018 school census, there were 904 pupils in Bristol state funded special schools (including hospital education) and 99 in pupil referral units/alternative provision.
Jumping back one more time to the January 2017 school census, there were 852 in Bristol state funded special schools. And for pupil referral units, 121 pupils.
The number of places needed in special schools is clearly dramatically increasing each year, with AP and PRU numbers showing no signs of slowing down.
When it comes to Send, the information about numbers, places, schools and planning is all there held centrally. Some based on real numbers, some done on projected estimates carried out up to five years in advance.
What is even more interesting than the figures held, is why Bristol City Council really doesn’t seem to want to give this kind of information away?
It’s not the only Send related FOI request they won’t answer.
A question about EHCPs for 2019 has been refused, as has the number of places created in special schools, alternative provision, Early Intervention Bases and Hospital Education.
How many children with EHCPs and a special school named in section I of the EHCP who have not been able to attend the school due to a shortage of places in 2018 and 2019 is another one they refuse to answer.
Bristol home to school transport is another area they remain tight lipped on. The council refuses to provide information about the job titles and job description as well as the number of people working on the team. They also won’t provide information about the number of applications for home school transport, the number rejected for home school transport and the number that were overturned at appeal.
In your tweet dated 8 July, you refer to an overdue FOI request reference CRN00227344. We do not have any record of a request from you with this reference number. Please could you provide details of the request so that we can look into this further.
According to Bristol City Council, ‘much’ of the Send information requested ‘is not held centrally’, an extraordinary claim considering its importance regarding special school place planning.
The council’s response says: ‘For example, your request dated 21 May (our ref CRN00227642) asks for the number of places created in provisions for special schools. Each of the 1,215 records that we hold between 2015 and 2019 would need to be reviewed individually to consider whether they hold information that relates to this part of your request. This would include all records and formal consultation responses. We estimate that because of the amount of information that would need to be checked, it may take up to 30 minutes to review each record. This would take one person more than 600 hours (1,215 x 30mins) to comply with one part of this request. The information that we hold relating to Alternate Provision, Early Intervention Bases and Hospital Education consists of 1,780 records between 2015 and 2019 and would take a further 890 hours.’
Here’s a table showing the spot purchase of Alternative Learning Provider places in Bristol which was in the High Needs Budget update to Bristol Schools’ Forum on 25 September 2018. ALP was said to be increasing because the number of pupils being excluded from school was falling, but the majority of Spot Purchased places for secondary aged pupils was increasing. Clearly shown here in this neat little chart.
Either somebody deliberately became a little too literal with regard to the information being requested, or the Feedback from Special schools and data from the Council Place Planning Team doesn’t exist, along with the April 2019 update about special school provision and capacity to Bristol Schools’ Forum, shown above, and, no information is available for the school census.
The council response does not even attempt a partial disclosure, which for some requested information would have been easily done. There is no excuse for not providing the information about the EHCP statistics for 2019.
Being difficult with Send statistics is not new to us. At the end of 2018, we attempted to track down statistics about children in Bristol being off rolled.
Again, it was a question the council danced around, yet at Bristol Schools’ Forum in July this month, it was a question finally being asked based on the official number of home educated children in the city.
It would have been so much quicker for Bristol City Council to have released the information about school place planning rather than deal with complaints about breaching FOI deadlines, adding up how much it would cost to not provide the information and facing the possibility of the matter being escalated to the Information Commissioner’s Office. The information clearly exists and they clearly don’t want to provide it.
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