Bristol Alternative Learning Provision Report at People Scrutiny Meeting

The current situation of Bristol’s Alternative Learning Provision (AP) and Bristol Hospital Education Service (BHES) was on the agenda of People Scrutiny Commission this week. The item, pushed for by scrutiny chair Councillor Clare Hiscott and Councillor Ruth Pickersgill, coincidentally landed on the agenda the same month a large independent review into AP is due to be presented to Bristol Schools Forum on 30 March 2021 by Bristol City Council.

Hiscott had to reiterate several times in advance and during the meeting that the independent review was not being kept from scrutiny and that it was a coincidence the new report had come in the same month that AP was on the Work Programme.

The commissioned independent review, described as a ‘substantial document’ by Director of Education and Skills Alison Hurley, took place in the autumn term of 2020.

AP is something we have regularly covered at Chopsy Bristol. In April 2019, Bristol City Council had the highest spend on AP of any City outside of London. The revelation was made by the former interim Director of Education and Skills Alan Stubbersfield to Bristol Schools Forum in April 2019.

Alternative Provision Bristol

The former interim Director left in October 2019 with a sum of around £120k for the six months he spent covering the post but the commissioned review into AP fell to his permanent successor Hurley.

The review found 31 areas for improvement for AP, all of which have been accepted by the council with an action plan developed around the key themes.

The report to People Scrutiny Commission was only a brief overview of the findings in the forthcoming report – of which Hurley said she was ‘ very happy’ with.

Hurley told the scrutiny commission: “What we have looked at through this review is the experiences of children and young people in mainstream education as they come in to alternative review and then there’s been a number of case studies and deep dives around some of those individual experiences and then also some of those collective outcomes in terms of some of the big strategic pieces and also those that link to some of the processes. So it covers quite a wide range of areas.”

She said, there were already good relationships and pieces of work being done around AP, but the wider direction hasn’t been in place, that the provision needed to be looked at ‘holistically’ rather than as separate peices of work.

She said: “I think we all recognise what hasn’t been in place is that overarching strategic leadership and direction. So that’s a big piece that we obviously need to start with and that links with the wider strategic piece around specialist provision.”

Continuing: “So we really need to understand what role Alternative Provision plays for us, we use it a lot in Bristol. We are a very very high user of Alternative Provision. But the questions that come out in the review are – are we using that in the most appropriate way? Is it time limited? Is it targeted? Is it a revolving door provision? Or does it become a holding ground for children for, you know, a number of years and then what is their destination? Whether that’s supported into post-16 destination or whether it’s back into mainstream school or specialist provision, so that whole piece around how we’re using it is unpacked within the review.”

‘Key pieces’ addressing Social Emotional Mental Health (SEMH) and autism and speech and language were some of the things that the council was starting to address, a theme that would later come out in answer to a question on anxiety based school avoidance – something we will cover in a separate article.

Hurley also talked about what the council wanted around outcomes, She talked about what they wanted around outcomes, how the impact was measured, what the provision needed to achieve, what the reason for using AP was at this point and how it was measured.

“How do we hold ourselves to account and how do we hold providers to account, she said”

As well as the report being closely linked with the Written Statement of Action (WSoA) it is also closely linked with current challenges relating to Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

She said: “It’s also very closely linked with the challenges that we have across the system with regard to SEND. And particularly, thinking about the fact in our Alternative Provision at the moment, we have a high number of children with EHCPS. As I say, EHCPs either coming into the system or actually arriving in Alternative Provision with unmet need and then having requested a statutory assessment. So that whole piece of work, in terms of the inclusion, support and provision prior to requiring alternative learning is a big piece and then what we can’t have is alternative learning being used as a kind of holding place for children and young people with EHCPs, so it’s part of that bigger system piece around specialist provision and making sure we have the right provision in the right parts of our city and to meet the right needs. And this is another element of that we will be able to address through this.”

Hurley said the AP report did not really touch on Bristol Hospital Education Service, with the council internally considering whether a separate review is needed.

Ruth Pickersgill kicked off questions from councillors. Clearly pleased with the report being on the agenda, she expressed her frustration that it had taken the full run of her councillorship since 2016 to finally have an AP report on the agenda, even though it wasn’t the full report.

She asked: “Does the report look in detail at equality impact assessments and the race equality issues and outcomes because for a lot of black young people the pathway of mainstream to alternative provision to offending we need to break that. Does it look at why they’ve ended up coming out of the mainstream, what work we could be doing with the mainstream to stop them coming out in the first place and how much power have we got in terms of strategic leadership to really influence who actually comes out and who and why and whether they could have stayed in mainstream in an academised world.”

Continuing, she also said: “I’m interested in the fact that we seem to have twice as many young people with social emotional mental health needs than most comparative local authorities. And I don’t understand why. And I don’t know whether that’s because their needs aren’t being met in our schools so we label them rather than change the school and this obviously relates to that so my questions around that really. I think that’s about narrow curriculm and lack of funding for pastoral support but that would apply to all local authorities so why ours so high?”

Hurley replied: “In terms of the Equality Impact and the whole pathway from mainstream You’ll see the inclusion element of that pathway is addressed. There were a number of deep dives and individual case studies for those young people that are in the system and quite a number of those that have brought a number of issues up to the surface. I don’t think it goes into as much detail on that as you would want, however that isn’t stopping us from thinking about the data and looking at the detail underneath those headlines.”

In answer to the SEMH numbers: “I don’t know why the numbers are so high. I do know that we have an inequitable system with regard to inclusion across our city and we have fantastic practice but we also have areas that we need to develop as well and to improve, to hold our children and young people more successfully in a mainstream school. So I would imagine that contributes to it but I don’t personally know the detail behind those stats.”

Head of Hope Virtual Service Rachael Pryor added: “I think it comes down to – as you were saying Alison – about the whole concept of inclusion in the city and how behaviour is communication and how sometimes that behaviour is interpreted as the behaviour being the issue rather than potentially communicating other needs and potentially other learning needs.

“The way we’re addressing that in the city very strategically but very colloboratively is around our work – you’ve already mentioned Alison – the SEND Written Statement of Action, so we’re looking at what’s ordinarily available in schools and how schools identify early on children’s needs and that we see behaviour as communication. Looking around early identification, this fits really well with our Belonging Strategy that we’re developing across the People Directorate as well. Looking at inclusion in education at all levels but also linking with other parts of the system.”

Councillor Tim Kent said not having the actual report was a ‘bit of a problem’ because the scrutiny group was very ‘keen’ to get it on the agenda and that without the actual report it was ‘difficult to know about the detail’.

Kent’s question was around Send and unmet need. He said: “I expect this is in the main report, it would have been useful to know how much of that there is. I suspect it’s quite high. Why we’re getting to this situation that Send kids are only being picked up at this point and I think that’s partly been addressed and hopefully is being addressed in some of the recommendations.” But he said without the full report he can’t really comment.

Councillor Claire Hiscott asked what hospital education is there for. She said: “I’m mindful that it’s often used for school refusers as well as well as children that are actually under hospital services. I was just interested whether you could tell me a little bit about how a child can go from mainstream school to hospital ed then how we get them back to mainstream? And also, just from my own experience there’s a number of schools that one always deals with as a councillor and then you suddenly get a – it might just be a random blip – but you sort of think oh that school tends to, children tend to go into ALP much more quickly. Do we actually look at how schools use those provisions and how some schools can better hold more needy children in their mainstream and perhaps how we’re sharing that good practice throughout the city.

Hurley said: “Certainly with the school referral – and this is again picked up in the review – we only have part sight on this. So we obviously commission places directly from the Local Authority but because we have a sort of framework of providers schools can also purchase support and places directly. So one of the challenges we’ve got is we only see part of that picture. So if a school or setting is commissioning a place directly that wouldn’t necessarily routinely come through, in terms of the process, through the Local Authority. So one of the challenges that we’ve got and one of the pieces of work that we need to look at as part of those actions is how do we have a city-wide view on what that purchasing of provision and the use of provision looks like and how does that then fit in with our culture and ambition around inclusion in our mainstream schools and settings. So you know, that’s a big piece on that.

“And then just in terms of hospital education and school refusers again this isn’t unique to Bristol. The whole role of the hospital education and provision has expanded and developed over a number of years coming away from just those who are currently under the care of the hospital and requiring education through to that whole broader piece around mental health and social emotional need driven need as well. So it’s kind of changed in terms of the cohorts that are accessing hospital education. So one of the recommendations for example in the report is that we have a social emotional mental health pathway across our system, across our education system working really collaboratively with colleagues from health in order to support children and young people much earlier on and start identifying need and have the resources in place much earlier on. So you know that’s a really key piece that will come out of this. There’s already work in that space”

The full report will be going to Bristol School’s Forum for 30 March 2021 at 5pm.

We will be covering the anxiety based school refusal aspect of this meeting in a further article

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