Send Crisis Bristol Our Formal Complaint to Cotham School

Send Crisis Bristol:

It feels like a long time has passed since the July 2018 Judicial Review victory in Bristol. Send funding in the city is still a hot topic of debate, with a lot of parental scrutiny and continuing campaigning.

EHCPs in Bristol are particularly problematic and there has been various backtracking over Top Up funding allocation as well as Top Up funding panels.

One thing that doesn’t change is the unwavering peer support on social media, by parents for parents. Send school related difficulties of every shape and size are battered out by parents desperate for help and responded to by those who know the difficulties. It could be difficulties surrounding school phobia, disability discrimination, lack of support, lack of understanding, lack of willingness by schools to be inclusive. It’s not any one school, but it could be any school.

As a Send parent, the difficulties my own family has faced are not unique, but after nine years of bad Send provision, lies, incompetence, discrimination and perhaps worst of all arrogance, the foot is down. No more.

No parent wants to discuss confidential family difficulties in public let alone broadcast them across the internet, however, what is going on in Bristol schools is outrageous. And, this is why I’ve decided to publish the second complaint I made near the end of 2018 to Cotham School’s governing body regarding Send and inclusion problems we have faced.

When I first started writing the Send in the City section for this website, I didn’t initially name schools involved. But nothing changes. Nothing gets better. One of the things that has repeatedly come up at Send support groups is that it is impossible to hold individual schools to account. I know I speak for many parents in this city when I say that it’s time for that to change.


– Discriminatory use of registration codes
– Discrimination against children with Send
– Failure to make sure children with Send are accessing education at Cotham School

– Out of date policies on website relating to Send
– Discrepancies between promised SPE referrals and action taken

Having taken advice from various education and welfare departments at Bristol City Council, I am making a formal complaint about the headteacher of Cotham School. You should also consider this to be the first step in the external formal process of complaining against an academy school.

Because the headteacher – according to your Attendance Policy – is the person who authorises absence, this complaint is directly about her and the way this impacts upon my child’s special educational needs and disability and excludes him from education at Cotham School.

I have no wish to deal with the headteacher or meet with her regarding this complaint. It is not possible to discuss deliberate functional exclusion she has created without her bias. Because of possible discrepancies between SPE referrals, neither should this be passed to either XXXX or XXXX.

On Wednesday 21 October, I spoke to the Attendance Officer for Cotham School, who was supposed to phone me back about my son’s long-term absence. She did not. When the (inclusion department) phoned me back at the end of the day, (inclusion) told me that XXXX absence was unauthorised because I had not provided medical evidence for it. At no point have I been asked to provide medical evidence. Cotham School’s Attendance Policy clearly states that they will ‘advise parents if an absence is unauthorised’. This has not happened.

My son has severe anxiety related to a disability and this has been experienced first hand many times by the inclusion team. We are part way through the EHCP process and have been referred to XXXX. At one point, my son even ran out of the school after I had dropped him off behind the locked door with a member of school staff.

I was told yesterday, after some months of absence, that I would need to provide a GP letter that proves what staff have witnesses. I am sure you are aware that this goes against British Medical Association policy which clearly states: ‘It should be noted that GPs do not provide sick notes for schoolchildren. When children are absent from school owing to illness, schools may request a letter from a parent or guardian, and this is no different during an exam period.’

Because his absence is ‘unauthorised’ by the headteacher, the (inclusion department) explained that this means Cotham School does not have to provide any work home or access to education. Apparently, there is a policy about this. I cannot find this policy on your website, but denying a child access to education due to disability is discrimination. It is against your own Send policies, the Send Code of Practice and it is against the Equality Act 2010. It is completely unlawful. The headteacher is breaking the law and your school is now open to a disability discrimination claim.

Whilst searching for this policy on your website, I came across your Disability Equality Policy and Action Plan, which is is so out of date it is obsolete.

I assume this is replaced by the Policy Statement on Equality and Community Cohesion 2016-17? Bizarrely, it states that on a school roll of 1495 on 01/09/2016, no pupil had a disability. This is worrying because the Equality Act is there to protect children with disabilities such as autism from discrimination. How are you logging children with disabilities at Cotham School? I would consider autism for most children would be considered a disability and I can’t think you had an entire disability-free school population at that time.

I don’t even have the energy to pull apart the failings in the Special Needs and Disability Policy and how it actually operates at the school, but it’s due for renewal. It does, however state that ‘education at Cotham will at all times be inclusive.’ It is not, this is laughable. And it also says ‘All students will have access to a full curriculum where work and activity is differentiated to meet their individual need. All students with special educational needs will have their needs identified and will have appropriate provision agreed.’ They do not have access to a ‘full curriculum’. My child has had no access to any curriculum for weeks and weeks.

By deliberately not authorising absence for a genuine medical condition, this means that Cotham School does not have to provide any work home or access to education while my child is absent. That’s an utter disgrace. Despite my child being on Cotham School roll, the headteacher is allowed to exclude him from access to education by deliberately not authorising absence due to a medical condition. Is this the kind of school you want Cotham to be? Because that’s what it is. It is a school that wilfully and deliberately excludes children with special educational needs and disabilities from accessing education because of your policies.

I have been in contact with both the educational welfare department at Bristol City Council as well as the council’s Send team. I have been made aware of discrepancies between support promised and action taken, therefore, please provide information for the following. Not information that has happened now, but action that was taken on the following dates:

On Monday 08 October, I was asked for permission for XXXX to have an assessment by an educational psychologist. I gave permission for this. Please let me know what the outcome for this at the time was.

Osprey Court informed me that Cotham School could re-refer XXXX back to the community paediatrician Dr XXXX through SPE. On Friday 12 October, XXXX said that Cotham School would do this. Has this been done? If not why not? And if it has, what was the result of that*?

Note – This referral was not made until December 2018

On Wednesday 17 October, the (inclusion department) emailed me to tell me (inclusion) had left a message for XXXX at CAMHS and then further spoke to him on Friday 21 October. What was the outcome of this? There should be CAMHS involvement through the school by now. Having spoken to the Bristol City Council Send team this afternoon, there appears to be no SPE referrals made by the school which is confusing.

I want to know exactly what SPE referrals have been made, for what and on what date*.

Note – None had been made.

I also want to know why my child is being discriminated against by being marked as unauthorised absence. Why nobody has ever told me this. I also do not want to be lied to. I genuinely believe that at times I have been misled with regard to what the school is actually doing. I can’t decide if this is dishonesty or incompetence but it is utterly unacceptable.


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