There are ‘significant issues’ with the number of Education Health Care Plans that are issued within statutory timescales in Bristol. It’s not a new story, but a report now shows that none are currently being completed on time at all.
It’s an issue that has caused a crisis for children with Special Educational Needs and or Disability (Send) in Bristol over the last three years. An EHCP will contain specific recommendations from professionals enabling a child to access education.
A report to the People Scrutiny Commission ahead of its meeting on Tuesday 28 November 2019, found that the percentage of ECHPS issued within 20 weeks was well below target. The Performance Progress Report for 01 April until 30 September 2019 by Executive Director of People Jacqui Jensen, stated that no EHCP assessment had been completed on time during the period. This was due to ‘staffing shortages with the SEND team, an increase in statutory assessments requests (as seen nationally as well as in Bristol) and resourcing issues causing other professionals being unable to provide assessment reports within statutory timescales’.
The report also states that the SEND Team was restructured from 01/11/19, with additional roles agreed and advertised. Jensen also says that ‘new working practices’ have now been designed to improve both the timescales and quality of service to families.
Jacqui Jensen did not attend the People Scrutiny Commission to answer questions about the report and no other education officer attended in place. The absence was sourly noted on the commission’s minutes.
The education restructure and additional roles coincide with the departure of the former interim Director of Education Alan Stubbersfield and the arrival of permanent replacement Alison Hurley. Stubbersfield earned the ire of Bristol Send parents in the summer after disagreeing with recommendations for the employment of 20 new caseworkers believing this not to be necessary. However on Monday 14 October 2019, by the start time of People Scrutiny Commission, over 18 EHCP caseworker positions were advertised on the Bristol City Council jobs website.
At Bristol Schools’ Forum on Tuesday 26 November 2019, Alison Hurley presented a system-wide Send and Inclusion Improvement Plan. The document was the additional detail requested by the forum at the September 2019 meeting after Jensen’s System-wide Transformation of Bristol’s Education Provision met with polite derision for focusing on ‘buzzwords’ and lacking in detail, depth and a funding plan.
Hurley’s new plan aims to ‘accelerate improvement for SEND across the system’. Since coming into post, Hurley has completed a restructure of Heads of Service across education and skills modelled into four new service areas. Learning City includes Early Years School Partnership and Teaching and Learning. Accessible City is the team behind Send statutory casework as well as Send support and educational psychology.
The third service area is Inclusive City which is Hope Virtual School and inclusion services relating to attendance and exclusion. The final one which hasn’t changed is the Learning, Employment and Skills area.
Hurley said to Bristol Schools’ Forum this week: “The reason for these changes – this is not a cost saving exercise – what this is about is realigning our priorities as a council and absolutely using a matrix structure rather than a vertical silo structure in order to identify core priorities that we across the service need to address as a city. That includes Early Years. That includes Send. That includes safeguarding. That includes outcomes for disadvantage.”
She said of the recent Send recruitment campaign for the Send team that it was it was ‘very successful’ and at the “back-end of last week appointed 20 of those roles” with “significant capacity going forward” although there will be a “time delay”.
It’s another contradiction from Bristol education after Jensen had told attendees at Bristol Parent Carers’ Annual Participation event in June 2019 that trying to recruit to the SEN team in January 2019 was a “long, drawn out process” and that it was “really, really hard” to get the six caseworkers they actually recruited for.
According to a headteachers’ bulletin that was emailed to education staff across Bristol, the council had experienced no such recruitment difficulty this time around, whittling down applicants for interview to 70 for 23 new posts due to start next year.
A complete overhaul of all statutory and non-statutory Send processes is planned, with a public drop-in event announced for next week. A quality assurance framework is due to be introduced as well as investment to increase capacity and streamline systems.
The new Accessibility City team has not proved popular with parents and carers, after a leaked headteachers’ bulletin email showed that the Bristol SEN team were urging education staff not to make a request for an EHC Needs Assessment from 26 November 2019 – 06 January 2020, something some education staff are branding a cynical ploy to improve performance figures.
A spokesperson for Bristol Independent Send Community said ‘all parents who wish to make a needs assessment request to Bristol City Council should continue to do so’ and that the ‘worrying’ email suggests that the SEN team is ‘no longer able to cope at all and has closed for business’.
It’s not a great start for Alison Hurley’s newly formed Accessible City team and a move which has prompted Send parents to contact their local MPs.
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