Bristol City Council Send Data Continues to be Unreliable for Scrutiny and Public Forum:
Inaccurate Bristol Send data has been a subject of contention for both People Scrutiny Commission and Send action groups in the city for the last year. Freedom of Information requests made for Send data are often rejected, which would increasingly be explainable by evidence showing that the data is actually in chaos.
At Cabinet, on Tuesday 02 July 2019, Councillor Anna Keen announced that an independent review of Send would take place.
That published data report completed in July 2019, stated that ‘Performance reporting needs to be given a high priority.’ It found ‘strong evidence’ that a data migration wasn’t planned effectively. This resulted in a ‘lack’ of operational and management reporting.
Data reporting was not much better by the time of People Scrutiny Commission on 14 October 2019. Director of People, Jacqui Jensen, ended up admitting that EHCP data submitted for the meeting was inaccurate.
A month later at People Scrutiny Commission on 18 November 2019 former interim Director of Education Alan Stubbersfield did not even recognise his own Send statistics in reply to a question at Public Forum
It’s an on-going issue which continued yet again at People Scrutiny Commission on 27 February 2020. During Public Forum, Emma Boyes queried several aspects of EHCP data, asking in her first question: ‘Please could you help me understand the progress that is being made in clearing the backlog of EHCPs (Education Health and Care Plans) by providing the following figures for Quarter 3 (Sep-Dec 2019).
By the end of Public Forum, most people attending needed some help understanding the progress being made after data brought to the meeting yet again caused confusion.
Firstly, Emma asked for the number of EHCP requests received but not yet completed at the start of the quarter.
The answer she was given by Bristol City Council on paper was: ‘We are unable to provide the figure due to unreliability of the system’.
In her second question, she asked for the number of new EHCP requests received in Quarter 3 (Sep – Dec 2019).
Bristol City Council told her that a total of 204 new EHCP requests were received during this time.
In her third question, she asked for the number of EHCPs completed during Quarter 3 (Sep – Dec 2019). The answer to this question was 172, alongside a chart showing how many were finalised across the entire year.
In the whole of 2019, just 3 EHCPs were finalised in the required 20 weeks, with a staggering 407 failing to meet statutory time frames.
Director of Education, Alison Hurley said: “We’ve got new educational psychologists who will be starting with us in September. That’s four new members of staff. In the interim, we’ve managed to secure a number of assistant educational psychologists, consultants and additional staff through agencies to try and make inroads into that backlog.
“In addition to that, obviously these statistics for Quarter 3 were before all of the new staff started with the SEN assessment team. So the induction’s now finished and they’ve just been picking up their first caseloads. So we should actually start increasing in the output of EHCPs over the coming months and we won’t have to wait until September.”
Emma asked: “So would you expect that more will be completed than received in the next quarter?”
Alison replied: “That would be the idea.”
Emma asked for clarity around the average waiting times for EHCPS. It was something causing confusion from both those attending Public Forum and scrutiny councillors.
Hurley said: “The data hasn’t been routinely captured, what they’ve done is they’ve put together an average which is why the evidence about the time reducing, we’ve got to drill down into the data to be able to answer that.
The Education Director continued to say that they would do an update on the general data dashboard which will be going to scrutiny on a regular basis in the future and would be available to parents and carers on the Local Offer website.
People Scrutiny Commission chair, Councillor Claire Hiscott also asked for more clarity around the way the average wait time information was presented.
Councillor Tim Kent chimed in saying he also had ‘real problems with that answer’ because it ‘really cannot be true”. Continuing he said: “It does not state what it’s an average of so it’s pointless.” He queried the maths behind the answer given, with Hurley unable to account for discrepancies. The discussion resulted in her decision to take the data away and bring it back at a later meeting.
Emma Boyes, who appeared to be on a roll at highlighting inaccuracies and missing data, had more questions about staff capacity and other issues that might be contributing to EHCP delays: “what I was trying to understand was, if the only barrier to speeding up the output of EHCPs is just capacity of staff or if there’s any other barriers that are preventing them being completed?”
Hurley was adamant that the main issue was the “staffing side of things in terms of capacity needed to turn that around.”
Continuing, she said: “There are also systems and processes that are not as efficient as they could be and part of co-production and the focus on the Written Statement of Action (WSoA) is to really look at streamlining the system so that it’s fit for purpose at each stage.”
A shortage of educational psychologists has been a major cause in the delays for the EHCP process in Bristol. Our sources say this is continuing to cause problems. One council insider told us that statutory work is taking precedence over non statutory work, leaving children with Send not going through the EHCP process and continuing to flounder in education without much-needed assessment and support.
Education officers, responding to questions in Public Forum, addressed the capacity issues with educational psychologists writing: ‘There is a national shortage of educational psychologists and we have been successful in recruiting EPs to work here in Bristol. However, the new staff will not start in post until September 2020. Therefore, the EP team will continue to be under significant pressure until new staff arrive. Short term measures to assist have been put in place (we have recruited 4 assistant EPs) and this will help to some degree, however, this is a new and innovative approach and we will need to evaluate impact over time.”
A statement sent into Public Forum from Gail Brown talked about the issues her family were experiencing with the Bristol EHCP process. In it, she blasted the Bristol City Council for ‘cost cutting’ and using private contractors.
‘If you are going to subcontract writing if plans go [sic] private company then do quality control checks that they are decent as they just waste everyone’s time. Work smarter not harder’.
The shortage of educational psychologists in England is something the Department for Education is planning to tackle. At a previous 2019 People Scrutiny meeting when questioned about the staff shortage in Bristol, Jacqui Jensen admitted the city had a harder time attracting staff than other comparable local authorities.
Until the four new educational psychologists start in Bristol in September 2020, Bristol is bulking the shortfall with private contractors and assistant educational psychologists.
UK trade union and professional association for educational psychologists, The Association of Educational Psychologists (AsEP) describes an assistant educational psychologist as a psychology graduate who is employed to assist the work of an educational psychologist and ‘to gain relevant experience prior to applying for a place on a recognised Doctorate EP training course.’
It states that AsEPs can be used ‘with appropriate supervision and support’ though the Soulbury Report 2019 states that that “Assistant Educational Psychologists are not qualified to carry out the full range of duties and responsibilities of fully qualified officers on Scale A”. They are not supposed to replace The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) registered educational psychologist, but to ‘supplement or complement’ the work carried out by them.
A Bristol parent who is concerned about the quality of the educational psychology report her child has received, has spoken to us off the record this week. She claims the quality of report is “not good” after waiting months for her child to see an educational psychologist. “We’ve been held up progressing with the process for such a long time waiting for this and I’m so upset at what has been contributed,” she said.
She told us that other Send professionals are also struggling to understand the contents of the report, especially those concerning the cognitive ability of her child. We have been shown a copy of the report, which does fail to clearly set out levels and ability in a clear, concise or even readable way that would enable a SEN caseworker to include it in an EHCP.
Further data issue concerns continued to be raised through Public Forum, this time by a spokesperson from Bristol’s Somali Send community. Autism Independence founder Nura Aabe had also submitted a question about Send data to Scrutiny. Autism Independence supports families in the Bristol Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community. The organisation supports around 100 families in Bristol, with the majority coming from the British Somali community.
She spoke to the commission, asking: “How is data recorded on the BAME, Send population currently and how does the council measure how many are coming through to adult services, how many are accessing children services, what support they are getting. Is the council prepared to ensure race equality in SEND by carrying out research to understand SEND service accessibility in order to develop a culturally competent framework and increase early intervention, if the data is not available?
The written response from the council stated that BAME data is received for each individual direct from the child’s school or setting. ‘Information required by adult services is reported on an individual basis rather than as a cohort. Accuracy and use of SEND data is a key priority and there are a number of references and planned action in the Written Statement of Action.
Alison Hurley continued verbally: “We have the data and it’s not just about BAME, we have not historically been good at using data to predict need going forward and to look at how we possibly direct services in order to look at trends. So we’ve got data, we’re are using it on an individual basis and I think part of that was about the information sharing through to adult services, so again that information’s going through, it’s going through on a young person by young person rather than here’s all the collective data around BAME and that’ what the need might be in 3-5 years time.
“We have got the outline of the WSoA to look at this, Nura and I had correspondence just over a week ago in response to the co production in the Written Statement of Action, so data relating specifically to BAME will be outlined. We will be using for research to understand more about BAME and Send and how many children are accessing the services, the support they’re getting and what that looks like in terms of developing a culturally competent framework so that is written in. It’s an 18 month piece of work that will run alongside the other priorities through the WSoA.”
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