Bristol Special School Places Shortage Strategy Hit By Set Backs

Children and young people in Bristol desperately waiting for places in a special school or resource base will have to wait longer, after a strategy to increase capacity in the city has been hit by set-backs.

Bristol City Council had been consulting with schools earlier in the year, receiving expressions of interest from education settings able to offer specific provision to meet the need.

But at an update on the project at Bristol Schools Forum at the end of November, Director of Education and Skills, Alison Hurley, told forum members that the project had been hit by set-backs related to coronavirus and the pressure it was putting on schools.

The strategy, she explained, was about ‘expanding and repurposing space within existing mainstream and special schools’ which would be done through a number of different projects.

“So this isn’t about a large free school build or a large capital build, this is about looking at all of our schools and settings and looking to see where we are able to do something differently than we were doing before or expanding existing specialist provision. So it’s not as I say not about special schools, it’s about expansion in mainstream as well.’

Hurley talked about the strategy launch that took place February this year, which saw over 70 expressions of interest from Bristol schools and would have created hundreds of new places. She said the council lost two and a half months due to lockdown, delays caused by the procurement process which was focused on obtaining PPE as well as an inability to visit school settings for feasibility studies.

Further setback came with the start of the autumn term with schools having to deal with coronavirus yet again.

Hurley said: “Their response and capacity is very much stretched due to Covid and so for some of our schools and settings just the space and the staffing to open a new provision and get staff recruited, trained is obviously incredibly challenging, so for a lot of those autumn term projects, we’re having to push those back to the spring term which creates a delay in that system.”

She called it a ‘really challenging situation’ both for families waiting for places in specialist provision, although said that the children were in mainstream settings with additional resourcing to ‘keep them successful within those settings’

But said: “we are further behind than we obviously wanted to be at this point.”