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Bristol Parent Blasts The Lamp at Bedminster Down School

A parent has criticised a Bristol secondary school for sending pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (Send) to an off site location with ‘barred windows’ and what she claims as being ‘padlocked gates.’

A video showing a child being dropped off at The Lamp, part of Bedminster Down School, was openly shared on Facebook last month. In the video, a pupil can be seen walking into the site, which has several small structures on a cramped area of land. Some of the buildings had bars on the windows.

The parent, who says she is sharing it on behalf of another person, wrote on Facebook: ‘Imagine having a child who is severely struggling to regulate their emotions, who is on a waiting list to be assessed for additional needs plus lots more going on.

‘Rather than being supportive and understanding of the needs they are sent to spend days locked in these buildings with padlocked gates and barred windows.

‘Bedminster Down School you should be disgusted.’

The school operates a ‘no excuses’ behaviour policy called Ready To Learn, one that has met with criticisim in the past for targetting pupils with Send.

Sally Kent of Bristol Send Justice wrote on Twitter that she was hearing ‘absolute horror stories’ from families whose children were being sent to The Lamp.

Bedminster Down School says in its behaviour policy that: ‘RTL is a ‘no excuses’ policy that doesn’t lower expectations for children from any background, by presuming that poor behaviour habits cannot be changed. Instead, it stands resolutely by the belief that children and young people are capable of understanding why communal rules exist, and it contends that those pupils have the ability to make good choices rather than bad ones. It is a hopeful vision of all pupils realising their potential. It is therefore why we firmly believe that our ‘no excuses’ discipline has the power to change lives.’

An independent report into the high numbers of pupils in Alternative Learning Provision in Bristol back in 2020 noted issues with a Ready to Learn behaviour policy impacting upon Send pupils.

It said: ‘Whilst some might consider ‘Ready to Learn’ as a zero-tolerance or no excuses policy its supporters say it does allow for flexibility with some (cohorts of) children,’ the report states. But it also finds that ‘schools have to take into account disability (discrimination) and equalities factors. Looking at the characteristics of both FTE and PEX pupils this does not always seem to be the case.’

The school’s behaviour policy does state that the Individual Pupils Support department (IPS) will ‘ensure’ reasonable adjustments for Send pupils. It then describes these reasonable adjustments as things like ‘reduced time in the Referral room and regular breaks in the rethink room’.

The school says that the IPS will meet regularly to discuss students with Send.

But parents have told us off the record that they have had ‘big problems’ with the school sanctioning their Send child.

A parent responding to the original video also commented saying: “I fought about that place for such a long time, the fact they don’t see the issue with it is shocking. It doesn’t help, we had never ending issues with that place.”

Latest exclusions and statistics from the Department for Education showed Bedminster Down School as having the highest number of suspensions of all schools in Bristol, in the spring term of 2021/22.

Issues with The Lamp were raised by The Mirror back in 2014 when their website covered a story about a 16 year-old who was sent to The Lamp for having dyed hair.

But the family contested this was not the real reason. The father told The mirror he believed the real reason was because the pupil struggled with their learning and was ‘not expected to excel’ in GCSEs.

He described The Lamp as a ‘Portakabin classroom’ which has metal bars on the windows and ‘resembles a prison.’

Former headteacher Mr Schlick, told The Mirror that “Students return to their regular classes once their behaviour is regarded as acceptable to the school.”

The Lamp is described by the school as an ‘off site provision for students who are struggling to engage effectively with education in our mainstream setting.’

But the provision is also used as part of the schools behaviour sanctions as a location for internal exclusions.

During the Covid pandemic, changes were made to the Behaviour Policy meaning students with internal exclusions were forced to be transported to The Lamp by minibus as the provision is not located on the same site.

The school is currently recruiting for a Values in Practice Worker based at The Lamp. Responsibilities of the role include enforcing the exact same behaviour policy as that of the main school.

The Person Specification for the job listed experience of working with young people, challenging or vulnerable people as a desirable criteria. Whilst working in a front line service ‘e.g. education, social care, police, health’ was essential.

Continuing on Twitter, Sally Kent said: “A decade they’ve been using The lamp as a punishment block and they still have the highest suspensions in Bristol and this is on top of sending kids to the punishment block. That’s a failure in behaviour policy.”

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