Two years on from the Ofsted and CQC Joint Send Inspection of Bristol, just how well are things going? Something is certainly still rotten in the state of Denmark
by Jen Smith
Bristol’s 2019 Joint Send Inspection by Ofsted and the CQC has become the stuff of legend in the city. It highlighted years of failure, culminating in the city having to produce a Written Statement of Action (WSoA). It concluded:
‘The inspection raises significant concerns about the effectiveness of the local area.
‘The local area is required to produce and submit a Written Statement of Action to Ofsted that explains how the local area will tackle the following areas of significant weakness:
‘The lack of accountability of leaders at all levels, including school leaders the inconsistencies in the timeliness and effectiveness of the local area’s
arrangements for the identification and assessment of children and young people with SEND
‘The dysfunctional EHC plan process, and inadequate quality of EHC plans the underachievement and lack of inclusion of children and young people with
SEND, including the high rates of persistent absenteeism and fixed-term exclusions
‘The fractured relationships with parents and carers, lack of co-production and variable engagement and collaboration.’
But how have things moved on in the two years since then?
Alison Hurley wasn’t present at Bristol Schools Forum on 28 September 2021. She had submitted papers regarding the city’s Education Transformation Programme in advance.
When it came to engagement and coproduction, the papers state: ‘Ensure every step of our improvement journey is informed and shaped by the experiences, aspirations and ideas of children and young people with SEND and their families.’
Continuing: ‘The SEND Engagement Development Officer is reaching out to other parent carer groups across the city, trialling an engagement template and developing an engagement SharePoint site and calendar. Communication with parent carers is being enhanced through Easy Read training for Local Offer staff and services across the partnership. Milestones on track for launching the calendar and developing the Coproduction Charter.’
But Just this month. Bristol City Council forged ahead with a series of its own coproduction meetings surrounding the Alternative Learning Provision plan. There were two types of sessions, one for children and young people, one for their parents and carers. Except, the council set these up on the school run.
At exactly the time they wanted to run coproduction, parents would be on school gates and children coming out of school.
On 30 September, the Local Offer newsletter sent out a mailing linking families to the events that would be taking place, starting in six working days time and at 3.30 -5.30pm.
There was really only two reasons for putting the sessions at this time and that was either the council really didn’t want to hear what children, young people, parents and carers had to say, or they just really were that clueless.
For such a significant piece of coproduction, I brought it to the attention of Councillor Tim Kent, the chair of People Scrutiny Commission. This is the commission at the council which provides overview and scrutiny to the People Directorate – which has responsibility for education and Send.
In the meantime, Bristol City Council’s Local Offer posted the link to the Alternative Learning Provision coproduction on their Facebook page. I carefully checked the link and found the times and dates still timetabled as shown in the screenshot above.
I asked the Local Offer why all the Zoom sessions were directly in the school run? But at a later point on the same day, the times were changed from the school run, resulting in a disingenuous answer from the Local offer pretending the session times were at different times of day all along.
In terms of Ofsted and the CQC finding issues with ‘the fractured relationships with parents and carers, lack of co-production and variable engagement and collaboration,’ the ongoing lack of transparency is not winning parents and carers around. Nor is putting coproduction at times when parents and carers are dealing with the fall out of school days, returning from school runs or returning from work.
The Local Offer Facebook page further responded that: ‘New sessions were added to offer parents more flexibility mid-morning and after school. There will also be further sessions coming up to look at the ALP report. Watch this space for more information on these sessions soon.’ But this still disregards the fact that original session times were changed, continuing to fan the flames of untrustworthiness.
Attendance and Belonging
When it comes to school attendance, Hurley’s forum papers state: ‘The Belonging and Attendance Task Group focuses on removing systemic barriers and resolving problems that perpetuate failure, so that success can be built upon. It is recognised that teams must work together with solutions co-produced and this will involve partners across the local authority, together with schools, settings, parents and carers to build a better future for all our young people.’
Continuing: ‘Progress was impacted by Covid during 2020, however, the role of SEND SIO was successfully recruited with the new officer taking up post in January 2021. Regular briefings provide SENDCOs with clear information about how SEND is being implemented and supported in Bristol. They provide information from different teams supporting SEND, such as the SEN team and the Inclusion in Education Group (IEG). As well as information about processes such as Top Up funding. SENDCO surgeries have been introduced. SEMH PASS and GCI pilots were delayed due to Covid but now every school in both pilots has completed one full survey and as most schools will not be doing a second survey, dates have been booked to undertake two focus group-style, semistructured interviews, to ascertain schools’ experiences of the system they have piloted in their setting. The interviews and survey will provide the primary source of data for the final project report, including recommendations for a city-wide approach to wellbeing profiling in schools. The aim is to prepare the report in September.’
But in reality, systemic barriers are not being removed and schools are not being effectively challenged by holding school leaders to account – which goes back to Ofsted and the CQC saying: ‘The lack of accountability of leaders at all levels, including school leaders’ was an issue.
On a personal level I know this is true. In June this year, after much complaining from me regarding my child’s school failing to follow his EHCP leading to anxiety and school avoidance, Bristol City Council found that my son’s school ‘by the school’s own admission’ were ‘not delivering in some areas, not were they making reasonable adjustments.’
They carry on: ‘…we as a Council collectively agree that the school are not fulfilling the duties as set out in the EHCP that they signed up to. I therefore uphold your complaint.
‘While it is the school’s responsibility to deliver the plan, we as a Local Authority have a legal obligation to ensure it is met.’
The result of the school’s failure to use their ‘best endeavours’ to follow the plan has now resulted in my child being out of education. This is due to the extreme anxiety he now suffers as a result of failing to meet his needs.
Statutory guidance from the Department for Education states that Local Authorities are ‘responsible for arranging suitable full-time education for permanently excluded pupils, and for other children who – because of illness or other reasons – would not receive suitable education without such provision. This means that where a child cannot attend school because of health problems, and would not otherwise receive a suitable full-time education, the LA is responsible for arranging provision and must have regard to this guidance.’
They must provide this education ‘as soon as it is clear that the child will be away from school for 15 days or more, whether consecutive or cumulative.’
However, despite emailing Bristol City Council on 08 September after school again failed to follow significantly important elements of my child’s EHCP, and, warning them he was now unable to attend due to health reasons, Alternative Learning Provision has not been forthcoming from either the council or the school.
We are now on the 24th day into what appears to be a ridiculous power struggle with my child as a victim at the heart of it.
The most recent attendance and Fixed Term Exclusion statistics in Bristol must also be viewed carefully because they have been impacted by lock down learning with fewer pupils learning on school premises.
Hurley’s School Forum report goes on to talk about EHCPs and the ‘extensive project to deliver improvements across the statutory EHCP process.’
Continuing with the update: ‘Over the past year the Time for Change project has gathered information and feedback from professionals and parents of
children with SEND about how the Education Health and Care (EHC) Needs Assessment process could be improved in Bristol.
This has resulted in wide ranging co-produced changes including:
‘Paperwork and guidance for gathering and recording the Child/Young Person’s Views
‘Paperwork and guidance for the Family Views and Aspirations
‘EHC Needs Assessment Contribution forms for Education, Health and Social Care professionals
‘Process for professionals to complete their contributions digitally (either via the Professional Portal or directly on EHM)
‘Complete re-design of the EHCP template guidance/leaflets for young people and parents/carers to support them through the process
‘The complexity of multiple system changes requires a period of further development and testing. The launch date will be determined by the outcomes from this current test phase.’
But just last night, ITV West Country reported on the ongoing Bristol EHCP crisis, highlighting lengthy delays.
It’s consistent with the desperate messages I often receive via social media from parents who have been turned down unlawfully, months of delays issuing plans and families being turned down for health input due to ‘not known to services’.
In a FOI request made to Bristol City Council in August this year via What Do They Know, the council stated that as of 26 August 2021, there were 625 EHCPs in the system. This included those in the early stages of Needs Assessment Request.
Of these cases, 320 of were outside of the legal 20 week timeframe. A total of 123 of those were unlawfully between week 20 and 30. Some 116 of those were unlawfully between week 30 and 40. And, 81 were unlawfully over 40 weeks. This means that over 80 children or young people were spending the best part of an academic year waiting for desperately needed provision.
In 2016, I was unlawfully turned down by Bristol City Council for a Needs Assessment for one of my children. At that time, it was impossible to go through the appeals process whilst working full time, ironically in a school. In August 2018, I put in for a needs assessment for one child and in September 2018, I put in for a needs assessment for the second child. One took 50 weeks, the other took 46 weeks.
The council’s timeliness has not improved since the year before Ofsted and the CQC came to town.
In addition to the current EHCP delays, 20 EHCP cases were at mediation – a step ahead of going to Sendist Tribunal. And, 14 EHCP cases were in the process of being appealed at Sendist.
Hurley says in her update summary that there is ‘There is a continued commitment to deliver and land these projects in a safe and controlled manner as they make a significant contribution to the ongoing SEND improvement journey and the wider inclusion agenda in education.’ But for many families, children and young people affected by the Bristol Send Crisis, it remains business as usual with no positive impact on their lives since Ofsted and the CQC waltzed out of the city in 2019.