Bristol Alternative Provision Report Fails to Make Bristol Schools Forum

The scheduled independent report into Alternative Provision was not produced by Bristol City Council at the meeting as promised

  • Alternative Provision report now randomly due sometime before May and Autumn Term. Probably
  • Bristol City Council failed to bring promised report to Bristol Schools Forum
  • People Scrutiny Chair contacts Bristol Schools Forum with concerns
  • Bristol City Council refuses to release the 31 findings in the report
  • Council refuses to release AP findings without a plan of action because it will cause ‘anxiety and concern’

Releasing the findings of an independent review into Alternative Provision in Bristol ahead of a plan to tackle the issues will cause ‘anxiety and concern’ according to the Director of Education and Skills at Bristol City Council this week.

The long awaited report had been due to come to Bristol Schools Forum, something that was promised to People Scrutiny Commission only three weeks earlier. Instead, the education director refused to release the independent findings, bringing only the brief report that had been given to People Scrutiny Commission earlier in the month.

Bristol alternative provision review report withheld from both People Scrutiny and Bristol Schools Forum by Bristol City Council.

A DSG – Dedicated Schools Grant – Management report and an Alternative Learning Provision report were both due to be presented at the meeting but withheld.

Alternative Provision has been an ongoing issue in Bristol for some years, acting as a net for catching children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (Send) failling out or being pushed out of education for a variety of reasons.

Agenda papers stated: “In developing our action plan in response to the ALP review , further consideration needs to be given to any areas which may result in changes to the provision of frontline services or funding and a period of coproduction and engagement with families, partners in the sector
and through a Schools Forum sub-group is required before the plan can be presented to Schools Forum for endorsement. This approach will enable full consideration to be taken of all the potential implications, fulfil the requirements that are set out in the SEND WSoA and the 2018 Judicial Review from where this work derives. Headline statements from the ALP review were shared at People Scrutiny earlier in March and are attached for information.’

Chopsy Bristol has extensively covered Alternative Provision in Bristol, most recently regarding the withheld report:

Our previous coverage of the Alternative Provision report:

Report withheld from People Scrutiny Commission:

Due to the complex nature of the responses given to Bristol Schools Forum regarding why the report was not presented, reasons at times that were not clearly stated, we’ve provided both a link to the live video and a transcription instead of writing an article.

Our Opinion: The final Alternative Provision report along with the independent findings is due to be presented at some point between May and the autumn term. This is allegedly being done so Bristol City Council can release their own report showing how they will be addressing the concerns. Our opinion, from the facts presented, is that the content of the Independent Alternative Provision review is so damning, that Bristol City Council is attempting to delay the release to sugar coat it with an action plan. This will be taking place after the next Local Election in the city.

…I understand that decisions change, but when there’s a document that’s in the public domain that’s saying it’s coming to March and then that decision is changed around something as sensitive and as crucial as this within the education sector in our city…”

Chair of Bristol Schools Forum Christine Townsend

Direct YouTube Link:

Alison Hurley: “The main discussion really in the director’s update links to the two documents that were due to come to schools forum for endorsement this May. One is obviously the is the DSG management plan and it’s a work in progress and the other was the alternative learning review with the accompanying action plan in terms of how the 31 recommendations were going to be addressed.

“So those obviously haven’t come to this meeting and there is a short paper explaining why and basically the a the time scales on both have been extremely challenging, but also we we still need to work on some of that financial modelling, particularly for the DSG element of it and both documents need engagement from partner organizations stakeholders and but particularly schools forum in terms of getting it to a place where you feel that you can endorse the documents and the information behind it. And when we actually reviewed ready for May we’re just not in a position and for those to to to be endorsed at this stage and obviously missing some of that financial modelling and co-production that is is required in order for these to be robust models and that we can actually sort of pick up and move forward with over the coming months.

“So what we what we’re proposing is that we we establish smaller working groups to tackle these over the next sort of six weeks so we’ve got we’ve got the ability within schools forum to obviously create some tasks and finish groups and that is obviously from membership of school forum but we also are able to widen that to other stakeholders as well and really put a focus on that co-production over the coming weeks to get that information up to where it needs to be.

“The proposal would be that we create a high needs block task and finish group which will include alternative provision. so that will answer to some of the work that’s required for the action plan related to the alternative learning review and that we also establish a separate early years task and finish group as well in order to ensure that we reflect that in the DSG management plan and that the management plan doesn’t just focus on the high needs block deficit that we actually capture the issues with alternative learning and through the high needs block but alsot he early years as a separate piece as well.

“So we we debated and considered whether or not we could present some sort of work in progress and decided that actually that that probably isn’t satisfactory enough particularly because these are public documents. So we we need to ensure that there is that ownership over both of those pieces of work and the actions sitting behind it and before it does go out into the public domain and demonstrate, in as I say, in a robust way how we’re actually going to address the issues that we need to through both of those documents.

“So that’s where we are in terms of the presenting tonight. Now the the challenge is we’ve sort of worked through the next time scale and the next period of time. If we are going to do this meaningfully in terms of that co-production and ensure that it is not just a local authority and an officer voice represented in both of those documents then we’re going to need to think about when they come back to schools forum and how how we deal with that and I know Christine and I have had an email exchange today on that.

“Just in terms of the May schools forum which is where I was hoping to to bring them back and it’s actually on the 11th of May with obviously papers needing to be ready by the fourth of May. So in reality you’re looking at really the the end of April first of May timescale for that. Now given there is two weeks holiday, that would only leave two weeks for us to do that co-production piece. So I proposed to Christine that we review when the next school’s forum takes place and possibly look for a date in early June that innate gives us a good you know four to six weeks to work through that co-production piece with those tasks and finish groups. And then have the opportunity to to review in early June.

Christine Townsend: “Well I think I suggested the first Tuesday after the half term.

Hurley: “That’s right.”

Townsend: “Colleagues that have been on forum for a while will know that July, the forum in July is very often kind of, we don’t carry through with that because we’ve kind of got through business. But if anybody has any huge objections to that first week after half term, if there’s something that I’m missing? There’s no exams this year but that’s the date I’ve proposed. If there’s huge numbers that aren’t able to come to that? Because I think it’s going to be quite a crucial meeting.”

Rob Davies: “Can I just clarify, I understand why the action plan can’t be published if the task and finish groups haven’t complete their work but why can’t the 31 findings of the review be published?”

Hurley: “I think the issue is as a stand alone report what we don’t want is that it will create a sort of ‘so what’? So at the moment, the report going out without the actions sitting behind it I think is quite a challenging one. What we would want to do and what we have always said we wanted to do with this report is to do the deep-dive to really understand what those actions are. And put the two out together to say ok this is what we found, this is what we’re doing about it and I think creating, having a long gap between the two, it is a you know, a challenging situation because that is a whole, weeks of so what, what is the Local Authority doing about it ? What does that mean?

“What is much better is to do the coproduction and obviously, you know, we’ve started that but it’s not as comprehensive as it needs to be because there isn’t that ownership over it and put the two out together, so you know, people can see the concerns that were raised but actually, see at the same time what the local authority through that coproduction are going to do about it. And I just think the gap between the two will create more concern and anxiety than putting them out together.”

Davies: “That’s fine. I don’t necessarily agree with that strategy but I accept Alison’s answer.”

Aileen Morrison: “If there’s a task and finish working group and the Local Authority is looking potentially to amend how it commissions work from the AP sector, we’re left with very little time between now and the beginning of the next academic year to react to anything.

“So are we getting a committment from the local authority this year that nothing’s going to change in terms of commissioning? Which is a delay and that’s, you know, a further thing. Or are we going to have some advance notice on how to manage this?”

Hurley: “I think no, I think that’s a fair question and certainly the, what we’re not going to achieve and what I don’t think we should try and kind of really push forward at speed is to try and come up with all of the answers. In terms of what needs to happen, but there has to be, so it’s about developing the the action plan, so it’s a bit like the Written Statement of Action.

“A lot of that was co-produced that then created actions that needed to drill into certain areas. And what’s, what’s missing at the moment is that collective ownership even at this stage.

“So it’s very very office driven at the moment and it doesn’t, it doesn’t necessarily have the voice of the sector and families and schools forum in even the actions that we would then take through. So for example, if we’re looking at the commissioning element of it, it would be a discussion about what actions need to happen over the coming, you know, month and potentially even years for some of these bigger pieces and having having that input from from the start, you know from a wider audience to say – and these are the steps that we need to take in order to understand what that might look like.

But why can’t the 31 findings of the review be published?”

Nursery Governor Rob Davies

“So what I’m not suggesting by any means over the next sort of, you know, four weeks is that we try and rush through to have a completely done and dusted plan in terms of understanding all of the different activities that that need to happen. It’s more about having that debate of what does it need to look like, what does that plan, what does that response to the 31 recommendations need to look like and as I say at the moment, that’s been quite internal because of where we are, you know, with people’s time. I’m trying to obviously get get a number of different pieces done running parallel and you know capacity to do that. So I know why we are where we are, but it’s just it’s not good enough to put it out and with just, you know that sort of very internal view on it.”

Denise Murray: “I’ll just add to that if that’s okay Chair. Just to say that I think that the point also that Aileen was making is that will there be sufficient notice of any changes being proposed and I think we’d say yes you know in reality in terms of whatever action is being proposed there would always be sufficient leading time post that engagement as well so I think just giving some assurance in terms of that.”

Chair of Bristol Schools Forum, Christine Townsend told Hurley that she had been approached by the chair of People Scrutiny Commission as well as a member of the public regarding the AP report not being available as expected for the meeting.

Townsend: “So Denise what do you mean by that? Because Aileen correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you’re talking about September now aren’t you?

Morrison: “Yeah I’m just concerned that if the, you know, if the joint actions are decided and in June there’s a plan to reconfigure how AP is commissioned, We have staff and the other alternative providers have staff that we can’t, you know, we can’t change who we’ve got on on our books for for September. It would be unfeasible and impractical

Murray: “And what I was basically indicating is that the action plan that is co-designed and developed will also you know will reflect the time frame and the timing of those decisions and leading time for any decisions to be implemented and you know and being reasonable in that approach would be you know one of the key factors.”

Simon Holmes: “Well just can I firstly say I, you know, I really welcome the idea that, well the proposal that we bring in more people. So it isn’t just that this isn’t just bounce off driving it. Particularly the review around early years, family hubs etc etc maintain nursery schools funding. I really really welcome that and grateful for that inclusion.

“I just wonder how it’s actually going to work. I mean what is actual process for these task groups and how will they set up? I mean maybe that’s not been decided yet. But i think some kind of indication of of how this will work and how how it will tie in with other pieces of work that are going on around Send, around family hubs, so that you know, we know we’ve got to do things differently we know we’ve got, you know, budgets are a huge problem and we know we need to do things better.

“So it’s about how it all joins up. I really think you know be helpful if we could get a handle on that.”

Hurley: “Yeah thanks Simon and to be honest I don’t, I don’t think it’s set in stone. I don’t think we’re coming with a you know a finalized piece but very much with the with the proposal that we find a way to engage. So it’s going to be I’m hoping for interest in the room tonight in terms of people that would want to be involved in either of those tasks and finish groups and we can, you know, make a decision on size.

“We’d also want to engage wider stakeholders as well and also obviously officers that are holding some of that internal work. So if you if we think about early years obviously we would want early years colleagues to be engaged because that’s our bridge between the different pieces and I said the same with the high needs block we need people that are bridging between the Written Statement of Action and the DSG management plan.

“So it’s about, it’s about creating a a a group who will will kind of you know bring bring that different expertise and opinions to it to get us to the point where we feel we’ve got something that can be fully endorsed by schools forum again hopefully for June.

“We we are going to need to work quickly on this but actually then stay in place for a period of time to then start you know, delivering it. And I think what’s important is, particularly with the DSG management plan, it’s a dynamic document so it’s not about coming to June with it completely, you know, finished done and dusted and that’s it. It stays as a static document for the coming months. It’s about kick starting it, making sure that that initial voice is representative, sorry represented, and views are represented and then moves us into the these are the actions that need to take place over the coming months and actually let’s do that together as well. Let’s have a you know, a task and finish group, steering group monitoring and overseeing that work again rather than it coming just internally within the council.”

Townsend: “So I’ve got, I’ve got, I’ve been contacted by the clerk by a member of the public and by the Chair of People’s Scrutiny. DfE guidance has recently been updated which means that the Chair no longer has the discretion to invite sort of non-local authority officer to speak to forum.

“Had it not been updated I would have invited the Chair of People Scrutiny to come along.

“People Scrutiny were told on the 08 of March that for today’s meeting we would have this document. I learned that this wasn’t coming to scrutiny on the 19 of march which is nine working days between the 08 of March, obviously and the 19. So the decision was taken within that space of time.

“So I suppose my question, Alison, is is based around – I understand that decisions change, but when there’s a document that’s in the public domain that’s saying it’s coming to March and then that decision is changed around something as sensitive and as crucial as this within the education sector in our city – How was that decision came to, how was the decision you know, what changed between the 08 of March when it was coming and nine days later that the decision has been made that it isn’t yet ready to come?

“Because this is the report that was done in autumn, so you’ve had this report for a long time. And I think there’s some confidence building here and that needs to happen with forum members. Because we were expecting it as well. This has been minuted in our previous meeting that we were getting it here. Would you like to comment on that?”

Hurley: “So there’s a decision, a decision pathway of you know, formal decision pathway that happens before anything and particularly as you say something you know as important and sensitive and so you know in terms of the the review of both of the documents that are kind of done independently in terms of that decision pathway process, and it was felt that neither document were in the position that we would want it to be before it came to forum.

“So you know we’ve obviously taken it to a certain point where there were gaps that we we thought, you know, it would be, it would be okay with in terms of that, that first draft dot type document. But actually it was felt that it needed to be in a better place for it to come to schools forum and I think particularly given the sensitivity of both documents and the work that needed to be done and the fact that obviously any documentation coming to here naturally then becomes public documents and you know, it needs to be in a certain position in a certain state and unfortunately, we weren’t, we weren’t able with the time that we had and been able to get it to that and I think particularly having you know, learned from previous experience where we have put things out without due process and, and due consideration to co-production. It hasn’t gone well and it hasn’t, it hasn’t been received as well as it could have. So I think the decision that actually, just stepping back from it for a few weeks, getting the co-production right, getting the engagement right is a better use of that time. So when the document does go out then it you know it feels like it’s something that is more meaningful.”

Murray: “Can i just add to that Allison? I think, I really also want to say that these documents also require internal review and in my own opinion, neither of these documents are ready and I think there’ll be more credibility issues if we presen tto you documents that we know are not ready and haven’t got a complete comprehensive review and the capture of the picture. these are supposed to be key documentation for how we’re going to build and move forward in the future and also documents that we are then expected to engage with the DfE on. It’s really really critical that we get them right but if you don’t even have internal officers sign off, how can we present them to you for endorsement.

“There’s a lot more work to do and those have been outlined in terms of the the notes that that Allison has put together which outlines some of the challenges. And I think many of forum members will also remember that the previous review where we had gone out with documents and endorsed documents that hadn’t had the right level of engagement.

“So some of us here still reflect on that and wanted to ensure that we weren’t making the same mistake again and that what we presented to you was documentations that we knew had gone through the relevant process, at the relevant sign off, had the appropriate level of engagement and joined all of the dots and at the moment, these documents weren’t there. So if we were unable to enforce them and to endorse them as officers and how could we be presenting those to to yourselves as forum, to then endorse them, as you know on that journey fo rfurther co-design and engagement with the DfE, I think it’s really key that we get this right.

“And what we have seen for some of the other engagement with other authorities with the DfE, i we do have a really robust plan in place that is truly evidence-based, we’ve seen a number of authorities that have been, you know, that have been acknowledged in that regard and been supported by the DfE financially.

“So we were keen that these documents were fit for purpose before we presented them to you and that doesn’t mean to say officers haven’t done work, they have done a lot of work but it’s a very detailed complex area and it needs to be broader and we need to obviously spend this time in finalizing those and actually doing the more detailed engagement impact assessments etc, as well of each of the actions being proposed and engaging more broadly with stakeholders on all of that before we can bring it forward. As even our meaningful first draft for your consideration so I completely support everything that Alison has stated and said that myself I was unable to sign off any of these documents. So I think it’s just being clear that there is further work and we want to bring something to you that is accurate, meaningful and evidence-based and there’s more to do to ge into that space.

Townsend: “Of course yeah. But that was the case on the eighth as much as it was nine days later when that was withdrawn.

The gap between the two will create more concern and anxiety than putting them out together.”

Bristol City Council’s Director of Education and Skills Alison Hurley

Ruth Pickersgill: “Well it was really just how the decision-making’s going to work now. So I mean, I have two roles obviously, here I’m representing secondary academy governors, but I am also, or I was I won’t be anymore, on People Scrutiny. So I was at the meeting where we were thinking we were going to see this report and didn’t. And we were definitely told it will come to schools forum. I thought great, at least I get a chance to see it here. I obviously haven’t, so in terms of the pathway, decision pathway, I understand what Denise is saying – it maybe needs some more work from officers and it needs to be done well – I understand the co-production idea and I think that is very sound. It’s a pity all of that couldn’t have been done earlier. But when, if we’re going to go through all of that, by the time it comes to the next school forum, it’s going to look like it’s done and dusted because all those people who’ve been co-producing it are not going to be terribly happy if it comes to schools forum and then we don’t agree .

“so what actual power will the schools forum have to scrutinize and change it? And at what point will it be scrutinized by scrutiny? Or will it not be scrutinized by scrutiny before it’s final? I’m just not quite understanding the pathway it’s going to go through now to make sure that all the people who thought they were going to have a really good go at it and a really good, you know, input to it actually get that?

Hurley: “I think in terms in terms of the, if we take, if we take the DSG management plan separately. So in terms of that plan or actually on both, the, I think what I’m proposing is that we have the the working party for the schools forum – you know it’s a bit like having a subcommittee for finance – that drill down into the detail and kind of add an element of detail to it that they are sort of representative of schools forum, as part of that. Remembering that the DSG is a dynamic document. So at no point does it kind of stay frozen in time that we, we constantly will be reviewing it as school’s forum on a regular basis over the coming months and years in order to make sure it reflects exactly where we are.

“So I think the proposal is that we, you know, we bring we bring something that feels that there is more, as I say, more than just the officer voice in it. But it’s something that has had stakeholder engagement more widely than it has at the moment – and that’s for both documents – and that particularly the DSG I think from a school’s forum perspective, will want to then engage, you know, over, over a period of time and influence how the DSG management plan, you know, is fit for purpose at that particular point and how it’s in for influencing the decisions we’re making in terms of the scrutiny perspective.

“I’m anticipating, but obviously we will look at the alternative learning review less probably the DSG management plan. But certainly the alternative learning review, in terms of actions and the impact of those actions, again in probably the summer term or certainly, early on in the autumn term and the the action plan there is not something that we have to, you know, again we have to kind of see at that point if there is more work that’s needed in particular areas or there is actions that come up that feel more intuitive or more responsive to particular needs, then obviously we can change and adapt.

“So I think on both there will be certainly the role of schools forum with the DSG management plan in terms of influence and engagement and shaping it and with the alternative learning review, I’m imagining that the Scrutiny will want to have a have a session on that as well with that detail.”

Karen Brown: “I know this has been going on for a while and thank you very much, for I’m sure a lot of people have been working awfully hard to get to the state that that we’re at. I, just leaving something hanging in the balance with all the work that’s gone on so far, how are we gonna change?

“How much progress are we really gonna make before the next meeting, given the fact that where we are right at the beginning of April? We’ve got two weeks Easter holiday, we’ve got a bank holiday beginning of May. I know people aren’t going away on holiday as such, but if we’re that far behind to not present it to this forum at this stage, what’s the realistic expectation that this is going to be in that fit state for the, for the next forum meeting? I just want to be realistic.

Hurley: “I’ve been, you know, working back the weeks from that point and if we push back to that first week in June and it may be that we need to take this offline and just agree, you know, what date the next forum needs to be against that timeline I think it is challenging. I think, I think there’s quite a bit that is doable, particularly with some of the financial modelling that can happen, needs to happen with the DSG. And we’ve talked about how we can create some additional capacity to do that, the co-production.

“I think you know at the very, at the very least, I want a group of stakeholders to look at where we’ve got to so forum can engage in it and and that’s the piece obviously that hasn’t, that hasn’t happened. There’s an element of when we do that depending on the feedback that will tell us how close we are from the perspective of partners and stakeholders and from from you know those that will be representing schools forum, so there’s a little element of unknown there, but certainly I think you know coming, coming out today with it without even having done that level of engagement would would not have been appropriate.

“So I think there’s a there’s a question mark in terms of how long it’s going to take. Butcertainly there is enough time to to do you know, some of that work prior to the next forum and if we agree as a wider group that it is in a fit state to go out as a working document or whatever, I think again, I would feel more comfortable having had, you know your, your, you as colleagues involved in that and stakeholders involved in that so we’re able to contextualize it rather than just being an unfinished officer document.”

Karen Brown: “We do seem to be a bit in limbo and we have been in limbo for quite a considerable time on this project and, and I think it’s sort of hanging over us all the number of points that need to be addressed. And is there a way in which even if all 31areas can’t be addressed and knocked off, is there any way in which we can make sure that those items that can be addressed and looked at are done so and even if there are two or three items that we have to park for very valid reasons then we have to park them. But we must have something here even if it’s not all 31 items listed because it’s gone on for far too long really .

Hurley: “Yeah I would be more than comfortable with that approach Karen and there are, there are internal pieces within that and internal actions that we’ve already started that you know are quick wins that we’re able to do so I don’t think…

Brown: “We don’t know those, but we don’t know those…”

Hurley: “No absolutely that are internal that are internal but that you know don’t don’t impact about data sharing between teams or something you know it’s very very low level so I’m I’m you know I’m I’m with you.

“I think if we can get something that there is that clear kind of road map and clear plan in terms of how we’re going to address it, even if it’s about saying do you know what? This is going to need more detail this is going to need more co-production so we reflect it as a piece that needs more co-production before we can make a decision in the action plan um that feels a more comfortable place than as you say just leaving it in limbo because obviously you know this was this was from 2018 in terms of or even before.”

Holmes: “Yeah just a quick one. We’re getting our own timeline but is is there a deadline for the local authority to submit the DS you know these plans to DfE what is the actual overall timeline that that the local authority has to meet?”

Hurley: “I don’t know whether Denise wants there, wasn’t that there isn’t a specified kind of cut-off date because obviously for us as well our increase has happened kind of mid-year whereas obviously other other authorities have been holding that for a longer period of time.

“So given given the fact it is a dynamic document and the fact that there is a lot of emphasis on the the the need for co-production, there isn’t a sort of cut-off deadline so what we would look to do is let the DfE know what has been decided tonight, where we are in that timeline the next piece and then try and give them an indicative time of when we think that that co-production will have happened and that those forecasting would have would have been you know uploaded and be placed in into the document itself.

“So it’s in a better state now what you know when we that when we then submit that to the DfE then there is a whole kind of you know discussion to and from over a period of time where various other bits will be will be developed and agreed. So it isn’t a sort of deadline you must admit by this point and then that’s the end of it. So it’s very much negotiation and discussion with the DfE over a long period of time.”

It’s not just a ‘piece of work’ it’s their lives. So you know if we’re already two and a half years beyond failing them that just doesn’t feel right to me at all”

Karen Brown School Governor

Holmes: “It doesn’t make sense to take longer and get it right.”

Murray: “Can I just add to that so before it gets to the DfE for that sort of next stage engagement, it needs to be in a state of readiness so they expect it to have certain elements and components completed and then also that it’s signed off by relevant officers and endorsed by the schools forum and then there’s an expectation about engagement and then the DfE see that has an evolving iterative process.

“So what we’re hoping to do is to be able to formally notify the DfE of our proposal as a result of today’s discussion, our revised timeline and then to actually schedule an indicative date for that next second stage discussion with the DfE as well as part of that process.

“But they do absolutely see it as an iterative process. But there’s an expectation that the submission comes literally complete with the evidence that they can then engage more robustly on in terms of next steps.”

karen: Thank you sorry. I don’t mean to hog but I think it is worth minuting on behalf of the school’s forum if people agree that, whilst this is a piece of work most of the people who are sitting on the school’s forum are educators and people involved with with young people who who need these services properly sorted.

“So it’s not just a piece of work it’s their lives so you know. So if we’re already two and a half years beyond failing them and I don’t that just doesn’t feel right to me at all. And i think that is worth minuting on behalf of the schools forum if the others agree, that we we can’t we can’t accept that any longer.”

Townsend: “So Lorraine is saying that she agrees with that. I certainly would echo those points karen. I don’t see any objections to having that minuted on behalf of forum.”