Closed Door Thematic Education Board Finally Adds Send to its Agenda

The hush hush Bristol Learning Partnership Board finally added Send to its agenda at a meeting in January 2020

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (Send) has finally been added as a ‘priority’ on the agenda for the Bristol Learning Partnership Board. The addition comes after a meeting in which the Director for Education and Skills, Alison Hurley, did a presentation on the Ofsted and CQC Joint Send Inspection findings.

According to the Bristol City Council website, Bristol Learning City Partnership Board (LCPB), is ‘overseen by a group of influential city leaders’ representing education, business and advocates for learning. The influential group forms the Partnership Board.

Membership has changed and evolved over time. Amongst its current members are Councillor Anna Keen, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills at Bristol City Council (Chair), Professor Tom Sperlinger from University of Bristol, Sandra Meadows the Chief Executive of VOSCUR, Chris Curling from the Society of Merchant Venturers and Jo Midgley the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Student Experience) of University of the West of England.

The aim of the board is to provide a framework connecting planning, decision making, resources and ‘engage’ citizens, educationalists and employers. It says it champions learning for all ages and communities.

The board  ‘provides advice to partners, including the Mayor when making council decisions’. But all of this is done behind closed doors away from any form of scrutiny.

Obtaining minutes for the board has always meant a lengthy wait. They are not readily available in a timely manner after the meeting.

On Saturday 07 March, I emailed the democracy officer for the LCPB, asking when the minutes for the meeting on 27 January 2020 would be available online. I didn’t receive a reply, but the minutes were posted on the Monday following the weekend.

When I’ve enquired in the past about attending one of the meetings as a member of the public, Democratic Services Officer Claudette Campbell said in June 2019: ‘The Partnership Board is not a public meeting as it is a partnership meeting with city education partners.  We will post on line the minutes of the meeting at the conclusion of the meeting.’

We’ve covered LCPB before. It’s a partnership board that used to be open to the public and public forum.

Bristol learning city

Now, it’s one of six thematic boards which contributes to the One City Plan and is strictly closed door. The One City Plan was launched by Bristol mayor Marvin Rees in January 2019, aiming to bring the the city together in a shared vision. All six boards have met criticism in the city for being shrouded in secrecy despite being able to influence the future direction of Bristol and of course, the Mayor.

The One City Plan website states that one of its Leaning and Skills sub themes is ‘Improved support for children with Special Educational Needs (Send) and Looked After Children.’ But, Send was never a priority for the board until the January 2020 meeting. Not only was it not a priority, it wasn’t even on the agenda.

Alison Hurley attended the January meeting, reporting back about the way the council was planning to tackle Send issues in Bristol. Although notes were made about the content of the report, no paperwork was included with the minutes for the update. Presented reports, data or information is never included with the published agenda or resulting minutes about any of the subjects covered in LCPB meetings.

According to the minutes of her presentation, Send will be improved with an additional 23 team members, resources to deliver service provision and work ‘ensuring that families have a voice in the process’. This would be to ‘element the ‘done to’ feeling that currently exists amongst families involved in the service.

A ‘done to’ feeling is probably an unfortunate turn of phrase taken out of context. Hurley has provided the first strategic vision for education and Send in two years. But scant minutes and a lack of reports which could be obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, is not good for transparency.

Ofsted and the CQC jointly found ‘significant concerns’ about the effectiveness of Bristol, forcing it to submit a Written Statement of Action (WSoA) before 27 March 2020. Ofsted described the ‘done to’ feeling as ‘fractured relationships’ with parents and carers, criticising a lack of co-production and collaboration.

After Hurley’s presentation, a question was asked during discussion about whether Send should be a priority for LCPB. Board members considered Send of ‘such importance’ that it should be added as a ‘standing item’ on the meeting agenda. The decision was taken to include Send on the agenda for the first time.

Hurley also said that work is being done on a project known as ‘test & learn’ that will ‘assess what is needed going forward’ and will bring an ‘additional funding stream’.

The entire Send action plan will be ‘dependent’ on delivering a ‘complex package of support’ with local Health Partners. Send is also reported to the SEND partnership group and the Children Improvement Board. It was proposed and agreed that LCPB would receive quarterly review reports going forwards to avoid duplicate reporting.

The lack of joined-up thinking regarding Send has been evidenced from the board’s discussions around school attendance. In December 2019, school attendance in Bristol was some of the worst in the country  and Bristol remains in the lowest quartile for the number of Fixed Term Exclusions issued. Improving school attendance is one of the key areas of priority for LCPB.

Bristol school attendanceBut the minutes around school attendance for the January meeting are incredibly brief and offer no real insight into what’s going on.

Last year’s Bristol Strategy for Children and Young People (0–25) with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities 2019–2022, stated that 34 per cent of children with EHCPs are ‘persistently absent’. This means they are missing more than 10 per cent or more of their possible sessions. This was well above the England average of 25 per cent.

When it came to children and young people on SEN Support, 26 per cent were ‘persistently absent’ against an England average of 15 per cent. With such a significant number of Send pupils regularly absent from school, it appears strange that Send was not more robustly challenged at the partnership meetings in the past.

Send was also on the Post 16 Strategy update from Service Manager for Education & Skills Jane Taylor. According to the minutes, she drew ‘particular attention to the links with Send’. Again, there was no further information about her presentation regarding the ‘work being done’ to ensure funding for the ‘provision of data around those in the Send & Neet category’.

The Works programme is continuing for all ‘including Send participants’ but the interim report was also not included with the minutes.

A Raising Aspirations Event which took place at UWE on 04/05 February, was also highlighted during the Post 16 Strategy. At the time the opportunity for Year 9 students to meet employers and engage in workshops. The West of England Combined Authority (WECA) had been approached to fund transportation for students from areas of deprivation. A request was made during the meeting to share the Raising Aspiration event with Special Schools, suggesting that yet again pupils with Send are being marginalised rather than included.

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