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Bristol Schools Forum Adopts Blink and You Miss it Access

The forum no longer leaves live stream meetings for viewing at later date

Bristol Schools Forum has adopted a new approach to public access at its meetings this academic year. The covid-19 pandemic saw the abandonment of in-person public meetings at City Hall. This led the forum to take the approach of live streaming its Zoom meeting via YouTube. The meeting was subsequently available on YouTube for members of the public to access at later times and dates.

However, since September 2023, the approach has changed. Meetings continue to be live streamed when they are not held in public. But now, they can no longer be watched past the live broadcast.

Democratic services explained that Bristol Schools Forum is not a committee of the council, which is why the stream is ‘not retained’. This approach is ‘directed’ by the Forum Chairs.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) says that ‘Schools forums are more than just consultative bodies. They also have an important role to play in approving certain proposals from their local authority and are therefore involved in the decision making process surrounding the use of public money at local level. As a result schools forums are required to be open to the public.’

It also says that schools forums can meet remotely, which includes methods such as telephone conferencing, video conferencing, live webcast, and live interactive streaming.

The change, according to Bristol City Council, has come at the behest of Chair Steve Hornsby of NorthStar Academy and Vice Chair Simon Eakins of Cathedral Primary School.

Whilst Bristol City Council points out that under Section 59 of the School Forum Operational and Good Practice Guide 2021, school forums can meet remotely, it does not take into consideration Section 60.

This specifies: ‘Where a schools forum decides to hold a public meeting by remote means only, the forum should provide support or make alternative arrangements so that any interested parties who do not have telephone or online access can attend virtual meetings.’

A member of the Bristol Send Community told us that interested families would be unable to access the 5.30pm meeting because for many, it clashes with finishing work, school runs and dinner times.

“It’s not very accessible is it? Not when they are discussing things like Send and Send budgets. Feels a bit cloak and dagger,” another parent – who declined to be named – told us.

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