Bristol SendCos’ Open Letter About City Send Failings:
As the final term of the academic year wrapped up in Bristol this July, a cluster group of SendCos from 29 schools in Bristol wrote an open letter to Bristol City Council. In it they expressed their alarm over delays to the EHCP process in the city. The statutory process which should take 20 weeks was notching up 50 weeks for some families.
Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (Send) are suffering with a lack of support in education as a result of the delays. Seeing the how the children, their education and families were affected prompted them to pen the following open letter.
“To whom it may concern-
We write to you representing SENDCOs across Bristol.
As professional, experienced and committed educators we fully support the values that the Bristol Learning City has pledged to support, those of respect, inclusion, integrity and commitment, and of “ a relentless focus on children and young people”…” so that together we ensure greater achievement for all young people”
We are increasingly extremely concerned at the significant delays in the EHCP process that are in breach of statutory timeframes – as SENDCo’s our overwhelming experience is that Bristol is not meeting its requirements under the Code of Practise and Children’s and Families act and this is detrimentally affecting some of the city’s most vulnerable children and families and threatening the principles that Bristol has set out to achieve.
As you will acknowledge The Children & Families Act 2014/The Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014 sets a statutory time frame of six weeks within which all information and advice must be received. There are very few exceptions to this time limit, which are explained in the 0 – 25 SEND Code of Practice 2015.
Advice and information requested by the local authority must be provided within six weeks of the request, and should be provided more quickly wherever possible, to enable a timely process.
The local authority must not seek further advice if such advice has already been provided (for any purpose) and the person providing the advice, the local authority and the child’s parent or the young person are all satisfied that it is sufficient for the assessment process
Bristol’s Local Offer sets out the timeframe and that
“Local Offer -Draft EHC plan meeting will be held by week 17 and “We must issue the final EHC plan within 20 weeks of you asking for an assessment. “
Timescales for EHC needs assessment and preparation of an EHC plan are covered in Sections 36, 37, 38, 39 and 40 of the Children and Families Act 2014 and Regulations 4, 5, 8, 10, and 13 of the SEND Regulations 2014
9.39 The process of EHC needs assessment and EHC plan development must be carried out in a timely manner. The time limits set out below are the maximum time allowed.
9.40 The whole process of EHC needs assessment and EHC plan development, from the point when an assessment is requested (or a child or young person is brought to the local authority’s attention) until the final EHC plan is issued, must take no more than 20 weeks
This situation with has been ongoing for some time- we are aware that in March 19 The mayor was asked about the number of EHCPs issued in the previous 12 months and this was at 24.3%- (down 47.7% from 2017)
We understand that Bristol SEN are very aware of this and are taking positive steps e.g. to make new appointments.
Our experience until this point is that no changes in the previous year are being felt at ground level-legal time limits are consistently significantly breached and that we are experiencing what can only be described as a crisis.
While we wholly welcome new plans for funding to SEND it is essential that the scale of this situation is not under estimated and that Bristol is able to meet its legal and moral responsibilities as a matter of urgency.
Our colleagues within the SEN team are in their own words “overwhelmed”-
“ there is an excessive backlog- therefore it is not possible to process up to 12 cases at a time so the fairest way is to process and submit a few at a time in order”
“We are all extremely busy trying to process cases but unfortunately have an extremely high demand for EHC Needs assessment currently.”
“I apologise for the unacceptable delay in processing the outcome of the EHC Needs Assessment”
“Unfortunately, the volume of requests for statutory EHC Needs Assessment the local authority has received has been exceptionally high, and this has resulted in the SEND Casework Team struggling to meet statutory timescales. We are in the process of recruiting additional staff to improve the situation.”
“I have checked the local authority records and can confirm that advice is still outstanding from Local Area partners (Education, Health and Social Care) namely Social worker, paediatrician and Speech and language. We have been informed from social worker that a visit is scheduled for next week and contribution form will be in following this.”
“We are chasing advice and when it is all in will prepare the paperwork to go to panel. You will be informed of the outcomes of this panel then. I would hope this would be in the next month or two.”
“Please accept my sincere apologies for the inconvenience this delay has caused you”.
We work closely with very vulnerable families who are trying to understand and meet the needs of their children in a system that in a parents words “feels like a fight to have their needs met” and “is impossible to get any answers or to move the process along in the time that we are told it should be done” “we should have been able to secure a place for September but they have all gone now-“
Too few SEND provision places and delays mean that these are filled increasing the wait for appropriate provision and increased pressure on schools, families and children who are already struggling. The delays limit schools’ abilities to meet children’s need and to ensure that all young people have access to a full time suitable education as set out in the Learning City ambitions. There is a negative impact on the most socially, physically and mentally vulnerable in our community.
Early intervention and timely processing of EHCPs is key to supporting our most vulnerable high need children and securing the best outcomes for their futures, an ambition that as a city we all share and must do all in our power to achieve.
We have given a few examples below to give an example of the reality we face…this is a very small snap shot of our shared experience-
•?A- From a SENCO-
“I have put in 7 requests for EHCP:
x1 May 2018
x3 July 2018
x2 September 2018
x1 Feb 2019 (at the moment this is not out of timescales)
All except Feb 2019 are well out of timescales. Only 3 have gone to Panel 2 and been agreed and still awaiting to hear about other 3 requests at Panel 2 result.
So all 6 are well out of statutory timescales.
One that is an urgent concern is the one agreed at panel 2 that was put in May 2018. To date we have no draft although I have chased up their specific caseworker at least 6 times and had no response. This child is in alternative provision which is breaking down and significant issues out of school. Dad want to take parental responsibility and move them to another county but this can’t happen until he has EHCP as if they move before the process will start again and they will not be able to access specialist provision. So will end up being a ‘child missing in education’ which is unacceptable. Parents are not in a place to ‘fight’ so I am having to do this for them and the child. “
•?B- From a SENDCo –
“I am really alarmed at the delay in outside agency contributions or being asked for input from services not involved e.g. SALT-these are 5 cases I am working with at this time.
@ 27 weeks was told needed to refer to SALT which would take 17 weeks- eventually agreed unneeded- EHCP given at 47 weeks. (Still waiting for final copy but have an SEN place)
@11 months – still awaiting draft –
@ 29 weeks- awaiting- EP and SALT-
@ 28 weeks awaiting Health and EP-
@ 30 weeks – just had EP- told draft is likely to be in October-
These children should have an EHCP and be able to attend SEND provision for September but this will now not be possible as those few places are filled.”
• C- From a parent
“It is disappointing that Bristol is ignoring the law regarding provision for special needs children. There are no excuses that I as the parent of a special needs child am willing to accept. Certainly the photocopied form with a generic apology for continued and unexplained delays to my daughters EHCP was, and continues to be, in no way helpful. I was grateful that our school works directly with us on specialist support for my child but I worry that we are the exception rather than the rule. Bristol’s continued negligence has the potential to become expected rather than shameful, and it is my hope that their inability to provide for some of the most complex and challenging children in the city is called out wherever possible “
• D- From a class teacher
“we have a child in Reception with autism and very high needs– he has stayed in reception a further year but we are not able to meet his needs- the family are very vulnerable -we are over the 20 week time limit ( currently 27 weeks) and have still not had outside EP assessments- He will be unlikely to have a place for September and we are all hugely concerned –this is not in his or his families best interests- he has moved across Bristol and is travelling on 2 buses daily as an interim transition to another mainstream would be extremely detrimental and difficult and cause more stress for his family who we have slowly built trusting relationships with. The whole situation is upsetting and stressful for the family but also for staff trying our very best to support this child. “
We look forward to continue working together to support our most vulnerable children.
Signed on behalf of school SENDCO’s and Inclusion Leads from- (in alphabetical order)”
Bannerman Road Academy
Barton Hill Academy
Brunel Field Primary
Colston Girls School
Easton CE Academy
Evergreen Primary Academy
Hanham Primary Federation
Hannah More Primary
Holy Cross School
May Park Primary
North Star Outreach- Woodstock School
St Barnabus CE VC Primary School
St Josephs Catholic Primary School
St Nicholas of Tolentine primary School
St Patricks Primary
Two Mile Hill Primary
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