Send Bristol City Council Cabinet July 2019:
Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (Send) hit the media spotlight again last week, with two major stories.
The big national story followed three families challenging the government’s Send funding policy at the high court in London. The families, supported by others from around the country – including Bristol – staged a demonstration outside the Royal Courts of Justice as the case was brought against education secretary Damian Hinds and the chancellor Philip Hammond.
They accuse the government of failing to properly fund local authorities (LA) who are responsible for Send provision.
On a Bristol level, Send hit local media after papers were submitted for Cabinet at City Hall on Tuesday 02 July 2019, details of which featured the level of crisis being experienced by families in Bristol.
Send at Cabinet
The Resourcing Plan For SEND Function was been created by SEND Consultant Ian Clarke, a barrister and Master of Laws (LLM) in Legal Practice with background in SEN services.
The report asks for £1.575m and contains three objectives for the Cabinet meeting. These are to inform Cabinet about the ‘risk’ of Bristol’s ‘non-compliance with its statutory duties to children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disability (“SEND”)’. Bristol parents and carers feel that the ‘risk’ ship has long sailed, something categorically proven in the rest on the papers to be discussed at City Hall this week.
It also informs Cabinet of the steps already taken to improve performance and to ask for funds to increase staffing. This money is needed to in order to ‘address serious areas of weakness in the service’.
Parents and carers in Bristol already know the content of the report because they are experiencing it first hand.
With EHCPS, Bristol has ‘not kept pace with demand’ meaning there has been a ‘failure’ to meet statutory timescales. This has led to delays in assessment and reviews which in turn has caused the number of complaints and appeals to the SEND tribunal to increase.
The percentage of assessments which were completed in 20 weeks has dropped to below 24 per cent in 2019 – the national average is 60 per cent.
Right now, there are 400 statutory assessments ongoing, but 110 have not been assigned to an Educational Psychologist ‘due to capacity not keeping pace with demand’.
There are a staggering 2900 annual reviews overdue, dating as far back as 2017. All of these have had no notice given within 4 weeks of the review meeting with the percentage of Annual Review notices issued on time being 0 per cent.
In Bristol, there are increasingly high rates of persistent absence for children with EHCPs – 34 per cent. For children with Send, absence rates overall is at 11.5 per cent compared to 8.5 per cent for the England average. And for school attendance overall, Bristol languishes at 150 out of 152 Local Authorities (LA) across England.
The report also notes that Ofsted inspections show that many LAs are in a similar situation to Bristol, but ‘the area’s performance has moved well below those benchmarks’. The delays in the city are having a ‘direct negative impact on children and young people with SEND and their parents and carers.’
HR advice in the report notes an ‘urgent’ need for the Send team to have ‘appropriate resources and skills invested into it’. It says that the team has had ‘little investment’ over the past few years causing a ‘crisis situation’. Bristol now has ‘the worst’ back-log of assessments waiting to be done across England.
The staffing plan has been designed for a two-year period to address the back-log and ensure it is ‘sustainable going forward’. The council aims to transfer some skills from the temporary staff to their current permanent staff. This will mean when ‘looking to the longer term’ some of their current employees ‘may have developed the skills required’.
The funding asked for also includes additional posts to allow the council to ‘deal with the backlog and return to a baseline of full statutory compliance’.
The positions are:
Six additional officers for the SEND Casework Team. These people have already been recruited for a fixed term 12 months having started in May 2019. The results of this team will not be realised until the end of 2019 such is the backlog of work the council has allowed to build up.
It is expected that external plan writers will be delivering five to six amended plans per day, with two plan writers dashing out 50-60 per week. In-house officers will deliver two to three amended plans per day at 60-90 per week in total.
Two interim plan writers. These are already recruited for a fixed term 6 months. These people are expected to write ‘quick’ accounts of professional advice to ‘aid’ timeliness.
Five permanent Educational Psychologists (EP). A model of funding for Education Psychology has been submitted, recommending permanent recruitment because fixed term contracts are ‘difficult and costly’. All of the Send positions being covered are fixed term whereas the EPs are permanent. The report states that ‘This is a risk, in that, after two years, there would be insufficient funding to cover the on-going commitment and either the numbers of Educational Psychologists would have to revert to their previous levels, or compensating savings would have to be made elsewhere in the People Directorate’.
Two NEET officers fixed term. This is a ‘significant area of weakness’ for the council. Their work will involve supporting young people with Send at risk of becoming NEET with one participation tracking support worker working virtually and one participation support worker working face to face.
One Local Offer officer fixed term. Bristol City Council has not been keeping their Local Offer website managed or updated. This is something they are required to do. It should be a one-stop-shop for information about resources and services for Send in the city. An officer is to be appointed at a cost of just £9k per year.
One SEND Consultant already recruited for 12 months from March 2019 at a cost of 92k. This consultant is supporting the preparation for the Local Area Send Inspection and driving the SEND Improvement Programme.
One Consultant Tribunal Manager fixed term for 6/12 months from May 2019 at £108k. The role has an ’emphasis on early resolution through mediation’. The report recommends this role should continue for a further six months from September. It is noted in the report that probable changes to the way Bristol will be delivering Send services and provision will likely ‘generate increased challenge’ from parents and carers.
When a parent or carer comes into disagreement with a LA during the Needs Assessment, they may be able to appeal to the SEND Tribunal. Obtaining a mediation certificate allows this action to progress, but there is no requirement to go to mediation. The background analysis for the position of Consultant Tribunal Manager says that ‘It is recommended that the area dedicate resource to the management and avoidance of formal challenge and appeals to the SEND Tribunal’. It recommends an ‘early intervention’ officer to liaise with parent carers with an ’emphasis on dispute avoidance’.
What is the SEND Tribunal?
The SEND Tribunal handles appeals against LAs regarding their decisions about Send. They can deal with parent/carer appeals about refusals to:
Assess a child’s educational, health and care (EHC) needs
Make a statement of their special educational needs
Reassess their special educational needs
Create an EHC plan
Change what’s in a child’s special educational needs statement or EHC plan
Maintain the statement or EHC plan
Having an officer focusing on ‘dispute avoidance’ is alarming. Even since the 2018 Judicial Review, there are still Bristol parents with children who have been turned down for a Needs Assessment and are successfully having this overturned at Send tribunal. The emphasis should not be about heading parents off at the pass, it should be about meeting its legal obligations from the start of each Send child’s journey.
Dedicated Finance Business Partner Resource. An overarching Education Transformation Strategy is to be implemented. This is an umbrella overseeing the work for the High Needs Transformation Programme and the SEND Capital Strategy as well as links to Trading with Schools. This is expected to amount up to 100K.
Children’s Social Care. This funding is needed to fund Families in Focus intervention, costing 182K for two years.
The report acknowledges that ‘more sustainable longer-term solutions may be necessary, once the actions to address performance issues are implemented’. This clearly suggests that the ‘one-off resources’ being asked for are to address historical failings rather than future proof Send in Bristol.
The issues identified in the report suggests that more sustainable longer-term solutions may be necessary, once the
actions to address performance issues are implemented. It is too early to identify what those solutions would be,
how much they would cost and what benefits they might bring.
Other findings in the report came from the inclusion of excerpts from the Local Government Peer Review (January 2018) (“LGA18”). It showed ‘confusion’ about how schools were handling early identification of Send as well as the Top Up process.
It says: “a great deal of evidence pointed to the fact that schools and services were focused [and that] there is a mixed understanding of graduated response and how Top-up Funding should be used by schools and settings” also noting “there are concerns that there is a lack of effective identification of SEN in Bristol at an early stage. This means that not all children with SEN are receiving timely support especially those with less ‘visible’ needs.”
The LGA18 also says that the quality of education, health and care plans is ‘highly mixed’ with the quality of the assessment process and plans needing to improve. Health and social care was also singled out for weakness, with input needing to be ‘stronger, timely and more visible’.
The Local Area SEND Strategic Partnership Group, Self-Evaluation (SEF) recommends the Education Psychology Team take a ‘formal lead’ on SEN Advisory and Improvement function with schools. The aim of this would be to ‘increase the skills base’ of schools with Send, thus making them ‘more inclusive’ and increasing confidence with both parents and children concerning remaining in mainstream education. The benefit to the LA would be a reduction on the pressure of special school resources, so pupils with ‘lower level needs’ remain in mainstream schools and special schools would only have children with ‘more complex needs’. This would also reduce the need to place children in the independent sector.
Special School Places Crisis
The Education Capital Programme – SEND Capital Proposals, which forms the same Cabinet papers – goes into depth about Send sufficiency and special schools availability. Bristol special schools are approaching capacity. Once this happens, the council must rely on Independent Non Maintained settings which will come at a higher cost.
Addressing Send school buildings falling into disrepair is one of the issues in this paper, with money being asked for and ringfenced to make improvements, repairs and increase capacity at Kingsweston Special School – The Keep, develop a sixth form block and increase capacity at KnowleDGE and building work for Claremont and Elmfield.
Bristol has the biggest spend on Alternative Provision outside of London. Reducing the number of young people with EHCPs in Alternative Learning Provision and ensuring school places is another aim.
The council will be reviewing the capacity of its Send schools over the next six months against DFE guidelines regarding space requirements. This will see if schools really are overfull or if they can be used ‘more efficiently’.
The accompanying report Review of SEND Capacity and Projection Data, says that how full the schools are depends on the time of year the numbers are inspected. It says this is because numbers in special schools vary as pupils move from mainstream or in and out of ALP.
But Bristol parents know trying to get a secondary special school place is currently a case for appeal and tribunal, especially for children with autism. Just last week, the NEU teaching union revealed that 8,587 children and young people with education, health and care (EHC) plans are classed as “awaiting provision” for a school place.
No Special School Places
We have asked Bristol City Council for more information about the creation of special school places in the city since 2015 in a Freedom of Information Act request, which has passed deadline without answer.
In December 2018, we asked Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees what the council is doing over the next five years to make sure children who need a specialist setting with an EHCP are able to access one. His response was:
‘We need more money from the Government. Trying to balance this service with an underfunding problem – it is important we recognise where the blame lies. There is still existing capacity within Specialist Education Settings in Bristol for children and young people who have SEND with Education, Health and Care Plan and the most complex needs, for whom this is the right placement. Not all children and young people who have an Education, Health and Care Plan require their specialist educational provision to be delivered through special schools. Capital planning is undertaken by the Local Authority to explore opportunities and priorities with the city to ensure sufficient places in specialist education settings, resource bases as well as mainstream schools to ensure a broad spectrum of placements is available to meet a wide range of individual needs.’
At the end of 2018, we asked the council in a FOI, how many children in the city have an EHCP but are waiting for a special school place to become available. They wouldn’t answer the question in a game of semantics.
Bristol Learning City’s Integrated Education and Capital Strategy 2015-2019 (IECS) reported in September 2015 that there had been a ‘significant growth’ in the numbers of children with Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) needs, Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC), Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN), complex needs and Multi-Sensory Impairment (MSI). It predicted a shortfall of 128 specialist places across all need types and ages by 2019.
The 02 July 2019 Cabinet reports states: ‘It is worth noting that schools ideally operate at 90 per cent capacity to allow for parental choice and the ability to accommodate short notice high priority young people.’ A High Needs Block update to Bristol School’s Forum on 27 November 2018 by Emilie Williams-Jones looked at special school capacity at the time, showing provision for some Send was well past 90 per cent.
The High Needs Update went on to say: ‘A key area to note is that there has been a significant rise in the number of Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) and Social Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) need placement requests, which were projected, but we have also experienced an increase in the numbers of pre- and early primary children with ASC and or Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities, which was not anticipated (but reflects national trends). The result of this is that across the board these provisions are now at capacity which for this point of time in the academic year (Term 2 2018) is of concern.’
If it was bad in November 2018, it’s worse now in July 2019. Parents just cannot get children with newly issued EHCPs a place in autism schools in Bristol. Instead, children are drifting outside of mainstream and not accessing education at all.
The most up-to-date projections based on 2019 data shows that if diagnosis rates remain at the same level, capacity will be reached in 2020/21 and a further additional 120 places – 87 alone for ASD/SEMH – will be needed by 2027/28. The majority of places needed are for secondary specialist schools and for people with autism including associated SEMH needs. The additional capacity is desperately needed from 2020.
Because of a lack of ASD and SEMH places, those pupils with EHCPs based on these needs are ending up in ALP. This should be a temporary solution, but Pupil Referral Units, AP and Hospital Education are ending up with students remaining long term. ‘Reducing and eliminating’ ALP is now a council strategy in cases where it is not ‘appropriate’ for a pupil’s needs.
A new SEMH/ASD/ASC school is being developed between the DFE and Learn@ Trust. This will provide 80 places at the old Soundwell fire station, but will be in South Gloucestershire.
Strategic Case for SEND Capital Expenditure
The Bristol City Council Strategic Case for SEND Capital Expenditure documents for Cabinet straight away identifies the fact that although an increase in Bristol Population since 2004 met with a programme of primary and secondary school building, Specialist educational placements did not increase in line with rising numbers of pupils.
The Integrated Education and Capital Strategy 2015-2019 previously mentioned, predicted a shortfall of 128 specialist places, responded to the need for an increase in mainstream places, but did nothing for that shortfall of specialist provision.
The proposed Strategic Need for Capital Expenditure going to Cabinet on Tuesday would not only see expansion and improvement at Kingsweston, KnowleDGE, Claremont and Elmfield, additional places would be made available in Soundwell, Venturers’ Academy’s expansion into Kingfisher Primary Academy, an expansion at Briarwood and Rainbow Wave 3 at Ashley Down.
There’s more benefits for the council with these ‘opportunities’. There would be the chance to ‘minimise’ Send transport costs and travel times as well as ‘freeing up old deteriorating buildings for ‘potential reallocation and or disposal’ which would contribute to a ‘Spend to Save’ methodology.
The chart above taken from the Cabinet papers, is an ‘easy-to-read’ way to show the need for additional special school places.
The horizontal lines show how many places are available in Bristol. If that line crosses below the top of a bar, it means there are not enough places for that provision. According to the report, this is already ‘apparent’ to the SEN Team who are ‘attempting’ to commission suitable places for pupils going through statutory assessment. The team is finding that ‘settings’ are full. This must come to a surprise to no one. Despite predictions that there would be a major shortfall in special school places some five years ago, despite the fact that special school provision was not suitably increased in line with the ICES findings in 2015 – there are no special school places for the SEN team to find for children with EHCPs.
What does this all mean for Send in Bristol?
Firstly, it means that there is a critical shortage of special school places. Parents know it, the SEN Team know it, Bristol Learning Partnership knew it five years ago and yet nothing was done. Bristol City Council knew it and deliberate inaction took place despite a programme of building for mainstream primary and secondary schools. Send children were scattered across the region to whatever schools had places, with some making long journeys to get there. With a programme of development planned, those children for whom parents fought long and hard to get a suitable place may be in danger of losing not only the place but the transport too. This is something that has been proposed in other LAs.
The EHCP process in Bristol is not in crisis, it is in meltdown. A series of fixed term positions have been created to deal with the backlog. The only evidence of long term planning for these positions past those dates is that it is hoped the temporary staff’s skill set might rub off on the permanent staff.
Educational Psychologists are being recruited as permanent positions. It has been made clear that funding for these will run out and numbers must be reduced.
Under the guise of Educational Psychology investment is the push to keep children with Send in mainstream schools. Specialist schools will only be for those with complex needs. But, in an era of supersized secondary schools, mainstream environments simply aren’t geared up for the needs of children with conditions such as Pathological Demand Avoidance, extreme anxiety, Sensory Processing Disorder, Autism and ADHD.
The planned Oasis Academy Temple Quarter school aims to have 1,600 students aged 11 to 18 at capacity. The Published Admission Numbers for the Year 7 2019 intake for Oasis Academy Brislington was 270. For Cotham School it was 243 and for Bristol Brunel Academy it was 232. Children such as those with autism who struggle with transitions, noise, crowds, physical contact and a need for consistency and teachers aware of their needs will not cope in these large mainstream schools. Is autism a complex need? It certainly can be in a corridor of stampeding children at lesson changeover.
Additional Send officers and Interim plan writers will not break through the severe 2019 backlog until at least the end of the year. The external plan writers will be delivering 5-6 amended plans per day with two officers writing out 50-60 per week. Concern over the quality of this work based on those targets is not unfounded. It has clearly been stated in the report accompanying Cabinet papers that the quality of EHCPs is inconsistent.
One of the biggest concerns about staffing requests comes in the form of a Consultant Tribunal Manager. Not only is £108k a huge amount of money, this is a position deliberately designed to avoid formal challenge and appeals to the SEND Tribunal. This is a parent and carers’ right if they feel part of the EHCP process has not been done fairly or correctly. The council notes that proposals to Cabinet will likely ‘generate increased challenge’ suggesting change is afoot which will not be in the best interests of those with Send.
Perhaps the worst thing to shine through the papers to Cabinet is the indifference from Bristol City Council towards those with Send. All LAs in England have struggled to fulfil their obligations in a climate of cut backs and lack of funding from Government. But, Bristol has done so much worse than everywhere else. The backlog of Needs Assessments is out of control. The backlog of Annual Reviews is out of control. There’s been no real attempt to expand provision for special school places. Expansion has happened for mainstream schools but not for special schools.
Bristol parents and carers were forced to take the council to Judicial Review last year because of cuts to the High Needs Budget. Things were very bad already and yet the council tried to make them worse. It’s hard to know where incompetence ends and deliberate discrimination begins.
The request for funds from Cabinet is not about the future of Send. That is already filled with uncertainty, poor funding, the robbing of future budgets in a system governed by the Send business manager and grossly over paid consultants. This Cabinet request for funds is the firefighting of a historical issue which has been allowed to spiral out of control, robbing a generation of children in Bristol of their lawful right to an inclusive education.
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