Home to School Travel Bristol City Council: The happy highlights from a year of institutional disability discrimination
When I first made an application for home to school transport from Bristol City Council in the winter of 2018, I had no idea the lengths that those employed by the council to support disabled children would go to avoid it. It was not only a breach of their own transport policy, but a deliberate attempt to block our democratic right to appeal the decision.
This is a story which highlights some of the institutional disability discrimination that pervades Bristol City Council. It is a long and complex chain of events, broken down to its very basics.
After one of my children was unable to attend his mainstream school due to a health condition, he was eventually offered a place at the Bristol Hospital Education Service (BHES). When I say ‘offered’ this was after a lengthy standoff of many weeks with the original on roll school.
BHES is a part time provision for children too unwell to go to school, or in our case, so traumatised by mainstream education that anxiety becomes too hard to manage. At a later stage in our EHCP journey, I was put under immense pressure to name this setting in section I despite the placement failing and only offering 3.5 hours of education each day.
The provision, which is based on Falkland Road, was only 1.1 miles from where we live. This might not have been an issue had it not been for the fact that due to its late start time, to get to the school meant having to go via my youngest child’s school first. This turned a 1.1 mile walk into a 2.6 mile walk. Due to both children being on part time timetables, some days my school run would be a continuous 8 mile walk between both schools.
Again, this might not have been so bad, but it meant taking an autistic child who struggles with anxiety, noise, surprise, transitions, physical contact, sensory processing difficulties and spatial awareness issues and was off school with extreme anxiety through the busiest parts of Bristol at the busiest times of the day. What could possibly go wrong?
The walk took in the end of the M32, Bond Street, St James Barton Roundabout, Upper Maudlin Street, St Michael’s Hill, Upper Maudlin Street to Stokes Croft towards Montpelier. Then back in reverse. Depending on timetable, the walk might have been via New Foundland Road, along the M32, Ashley Road and Sussex Place.
Every single day we would walk past the Bristol Royal Infirmary. This is a constant source of emergency service sirens, something which would trigger a panic fight or flight response or a screaming meltdown on the pavement.
Two weeks into attending BHES it became too much, the autistic meltdowns started on the way. He was unable to attend because he simply couldn’t get there due to disability. I put in an application for Home to School Travel, which the team refused to respond to.
The current Home to School Travel Policy for Bristol is very clear – ‘Eligibility for children with SEND is assessed on an individual basis to identify their particular transport requirements. Usual transport requirements (E.g. the statutory walking distances) are not considered when assessing the transport needs of children eligible due to SEN and/ or disability.’
This means the distance from home to school should not be taken into consideration for children with Send. It is also worth noting that during a phone conversation with a ‘business support’ member of the team, I was told that children did not have Send if they did not have an EHCP.
As attendance became more difficult at BHES, one of the assistant headteachers arranged for a member of staff to collect my son and walk him in. This was something that was successful up to a point. Unfortunately, in a rush to push walking independence on a child with severe anxiety and transition difficulties along some of the busiest roads in Bristol – is there one busier than the M32? – my child started to refuse to go in and no longer trusted the person walking him or the provision itself. He didn’t want to walk alone and was being made to do so, it was too stressful for him. One thing that we have consistently met along our Send journey is that professionals do not seem to grasp that once the trust of an autistic child has been lost, it is very difficult or impossible to get it back again.
Instead, he had to revert back to walking a lap around Central Bristol which caused anxiety so bad he would have hour long meltdowns on the pavements and had several accidents, including one where he broke his nose. He stopped attending and dropped out of education again, despite being on roll at two schools.
In January 2019, I contacted the Home to School Transport Team again, who eventually managed to find the application they had ignored. After reviewing it over the phone, they rejected it, sending me a form to ask for a review.
So at review they again rejected the application, this time bringing the level of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) my child receives into their argument. The team ignored OT reports, Bat reports, ed psych reports, Camhs reports, in fact, the team ignored everything. It delighted in taking comments out of context to justify their deliberate restriction of access to services.
Anyone who has had the pleasure of applying for DLA knows how hard it is to claim and sometimes, rocking the boat the decision maker is sat in is not a good idea. It’s worth also considering that the DWP considers everyone who provides evidence for a DLA claim incompetent or dishonest. This is the medical guidance the DWP gives to decision makes regarding evidence:
The DWP is not a big fan of evidence. But, the guidance also sets out that difficulties such as lack of road safety, sensory issues, running off and anxiety, including needing someone to monitor the route for potential dangers are all relevant factors and these factors were not taken into consideration by the travel team:
What the team was deliberately ignoring is that my child was unable to physically walk accompanied as necessary. It was a frustrating and stressful time which made my child more ill and put him at risk of serious harm on several occasions.
Delightful new discoveries I would make at a later date through Subject Access Requests (SAR) is that professionals, some with no experience of disability – were saying that I was deliberately stopping my child coming to school.
Since the start of our troubles, I have taken photographs, not for fun and initially not to be shared. Nobody wants to spread their family across the internet. But, trying to access support in Bristol is an impossibility and parents are falsely accused of so many things. I could not have tried harder to get both of my children to school and the system in Bristol could not have tried harder to stop them attending.
I tried many ways to get my child to school, including walking in the opposite direction towards Temple Meads to get a train around the outskirts of central Bristol and walk to the provision that way. We tried walking further towards Easton and come through a different route. We tried walking into town and approaching from Cabot Circus. We tried walking to Broadmead to get a bus. Sometimes my son tried to walk across a bridge spanning the M32 wearing a blindfold so he couldn’t see the cars below. There had been a serious incident where he had come dangerously close to having an accident on the motorway on one attempt to access the provision. Because of this, he was unable to walk across the motorway bridge. Sometimes we didn’t manage to get more than 15ft away from our front door before he would have a sensory meltdown exacerbated by anxiety or he had ended up having yet another fall.
A solicitor even drafted a pre action letter to the council, but the council being the massive asshats that they are remained resolute.
Eventually, in the melee of Send incompetence, Bristol City Council agreed that my child needed an EHCP. According to the travel team’s business support person, we now had official Send and this was practically a certificate of authenticity. The easiest thing to do at this point – six months down the line from the first application – was to start a fresh application for home to school transport and ticking the EHCP box. But again, it was not to be.
This rejection was the best one yet, it whitewashed over Send and disability completely. There was not a single mention of it in the letter at all despite the application being made on disability. It was clear, along with a year-long EHCP process, that disability was increasingly something that Bristol City Council wasn’t interested in at all. It quickly became something my local councillor wasn’t interested in either.
I emailed her for help on 10/06/2019. She finally replied on 03/07/2019 completely missing the point.
I replied to the email on the same day, explaining what the difficulty was.
I never heard from her again.
I sent more evidence to the travel team for yet another review, including information from Off The Record and the risk assessment from my child’s school showing that he was too high a risk to go on school camp.
Naturally, this review which took place with ‘Professionals from the SEN Team, as well as Home to School Travel Team members’ again found my child had no right to home to school transport. One of the reasons given was that my child had left school and walked independently to his former primary school. This echoed a comment made at the EHCP draft plan meeting by a member of the Bristol Autism Team, who said that leaving school during the middle of the day and walking to another school showed signs of independence which was good.
But here’s what actually happened, in the words of a member of staff at the school:
During a fight or flight meltdown, my child had ran in panic from the school, ran into the road and ‘narrowly missed being hit by a bus’. Whilst I don’t blame the school for this particular incident, it was being used by a member of the Bristol Autism Team and the Bristol Home to School Transport Team to falsely say my vulnerable child was independent. This level of spin on a safeguarding incident to avoid disability support was breathtaking.
Meanwhile, ‘professionals’ believed I was ‘obstructing’ school attendance and that my ‘children appear happy and content at school’. It would be funny if it wasn’t so outrageously dishonest. My children do want to go to school but with their Send they found it increasingly impossible and they were marginalised. Clearly, I was lying about the transport difficulties and my child running away from school and nearly dying proved how happy he was in school.
I was obstructing school attendance so much that I dragged out the EHCP process for 50 weeks, gave my children dyslexia and autism, refused to put in any reasonable adjustments in school, told Early Help as a SendCo that my child did not need an EHCP, then a year later tell the SEN team at consult that the school couldn’t meet my child’s needs even with the EHCP.
I obstructed school attendance as a professional by saying that all children, including those with disabilities, are treated exactly the same in their school because ‘that’s fair’.
I obstructed school attendance as a deputy head by threatening my child with detention for the reasonable adjustments put in place at school by an occupational therapist.
I obstructed school attendance by breaking my child’s nose on the school run and on another occasion made him concussed. I made him fall down the stairs in our block of flats. I made him fall in Cabot Circus Shopping Centre. I deliberate engineered a city’s worth of ambulances to drive loudly next to him. I deliberately slammed lap tops in my child’s face whilst in alternative provision and told him off for not making eye-contact.
I obstructed school attendance by implementing a plan which stated if my child was too anxious to come in they didn’t have to.
I obstructed school attendance by having repeated meetings at school to try and address problems because my child was ‘fine’ in school, despite an occupational therapy assessment to the contrary.
I obstructed school attendance by making unlawful cuts to the Bristol high needs block and by cutting back school funding from central government.
I obstructed school attendance by making my daughter become so stressed at school that during her lunch break she repeatedly smashed her head on the wall out of upset and stress.
I obstructed school attendance by making sure one of my children was the victim of a serious assault whilst in school and then brushed it under the carpet.
I obstructed school attendance by winding my son up in maths class so he ran out of school and was nearly hit by a bus.
I obstructed school attendance by ripping work up and having it redone because the dysgraphic handwriting wasn’t good enough. I made my child repeat his account of an event because despite being autistic and a slave to the truth, I didn’t believe his account of an event and wanted to make him cry.
I obstructed school attendance by running a local authority with no dyslexia team, no dyslexia provision, no guidance and relying on the budget and integrity of schools to commission ed psychs to assess children.
I obstructed school attendance by refusing to allow the children in my school an ed psych assessment because their needs weren’t high enough.
I obstructed school attendance by taking on two solicitors to work on getting my children access to the education they are lawfully entitled to.
Isn’t it easier to blame parents rather than a system rotten to the core with institutional disability discrimination. This is what happens when backs are covered and social care is riddled with people who have no knowledge, experience or competence at dealing with disabled children and families. The more I read, the more horrified I became. I read a report which claimed my children had witnessed violent rows when they were younger. This categorically never happened, but now it’s written into reports it’s become official. This is how easy it is to destroy the credibility of families and start to slip in accusations of Fabricated or Induced Illness. It’s the kind of thing you think happens to other people, but every single Send parent is potentially vulnerable. It just takes one professional to make one comment.
I was told that I could appeal the transport decision to the Service Complaints Committee and have an appeal to present the case to ‘a panel of elected members of the council’. So this I did. The appeal was never heard. It was deliberately blocked. I even had a letter in support of the appeal from my local MP Thangham Debbonaire.
I received a letter asking me to let me know which of three dates I was available for an appeal, to which I duly replied.
Assuming this was supposed to mean July rather than transporting back in time…
And it gets increasingly more bizarre…
And nearly 8 weeks later…
That would be a no…
She didn’t come back to me and the new academic year had started. This was now 9 weeks since I had received the letter about the final stage appeal…
And appeal blocked…
The day before the appeal was blocked, I received an email from the principle manager for Send and inclusion saying that ‘interim’ school transport arrangements will be made for two weeks. The school was also sent bus passes. I have been given no further information about the length of the ‘interim’ two weeks. The arrangement has now been in place for four weeks, but could be withdrawn at any point based on arbitrary and discriminatory decisions made by the travel team.
And more emails have recently come to light regarding the transport appeal. I’ve additionally redacted some names in grey which were left in.
It was clear from emails I accessed under a Subject Access Request that plans were being made through the sen and transport team and no such appeal was ever going to be heard. This is not how the democratic process should work for Bristol residents and appeals should be heard, not quashed by council officers to suit their own agenda.
For nearly a year the number of impossible hoops put up by the Bristol home to school travel team meant my disabled child just couldn’t access education properly. At the end of Year 7, his school attendance was 34 per cent.
The interim transport arrangements which could be withdrawn at any time are working. My child is accessing education and most certainly would not be able to do so without them. I’m not sure how files of reports stating that ‘mum’ stops children from going to school should be allowed to stand. I have never stopped school attendance and my child is clearly able to access full time mainstream school with an EHCP and home to school transport. Bristol is just not interested in children and families and where they have serious shortcomings, it’s easier for those culpable to turn around and blame ‘mum’.
This will no longer wash. An education system and disability support founded on the basis of lies against families must stop. Deliberately blocking access to disability and education services must stop. Typing out reports to cover up the failings of professionals must stop. Anyone working in Send should not have the title ‘business’ in their job description. And failing an entire generation of children due to cost cutting methods, incompetence and the deliberate blocking of services to support their needs must stop.
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