Bristol’s SEND Reinspection – Our Reaction

Opinion by Jen Smith

First off, welcome to the staff from Bristol City Council, particularly those from the People Directorate. I look forward to seeing reference to this article in my Winter SAR of 2023. Well I would do if the council would ever release a SAR. I’ve been waiting for the current one since 02 August 2022. Anyone would think the council has something to hide…

Here’s a simple glancing blow into Ofsted’s letter this week.

Though Send may have improved for some families in Bristol – which is grand – it doesn’t make up for the many, many, miserable families who are victim to Bristol City Council right now. I’ve asked Ofsted to provide the data behind the claim that a minimum of 301 Bristol parent carers were ‘positive’ about their experience since the original inspection. We will see if that ever materialises…

The council is quite boring. Boringly predictable. Very, very boring. Even a Canva prepared photo of the Mayor gurning like a hyena about to rip into Simba, can’t muster up the motivation to write a fact-based account of Ofsted inspector Phil ‘Minimising’ Minns letter.

Yes, be prepared for some BRISTOLIAN vibes, because that’s about where we are with this edition of BRISTOL SEND SHAFTING OF THE WEEK.

I’m surprised Bristol Comms finds the time for Stupid Canva Tweets, considering they also spend time digging the dirt for Directors and Executive Directors on what the city’s residents post on Twitter.

Still, Bristol Comms embedding some Stupid Canva Tweet in their celebratory story that although Send is still crap for many families, they’ve been graded D/C for some of their work and failed another is the kind of synergy they love to gush about.

As we couldn’t possibly have an announcement about the Send reinspection result without Stupid Canva Twitter, the rest of this opinion piece will be presented through the medium of Stupid Canva Posts.

So here’s my cat speaking today about Bristol Send through the medium of Crap Canva Posts, inspired by the Bristol Labour Party announcements on a politicised Bristol City Council Twitter feed. Yes, she might get her claws out at times, but she will never slash and trash like the Deputy Mayor with responsibility for Children’s Services, Education and Equalities.

So, Phil ‘Minimising’ Minns, sent his Letter of Judgement to the council last week. The result of this was a pass of four out of five significant weaknesses.

The fact the one they failed on was where Send families came together to tell Ofsted how rubbish the council was doing with 1-4 should have been a bit more eye-opening for Ofsted. But, they passed the council’s provision much the same as ATOS putting a corpse in a Fit To Work group.

The re-inspection came following an initial joint inspection in 2019, where Ofsted and the CQC found five areas of significant weakness.

Bristol was tasked with coming up with an approved Written Statement of Action (WSoA). Ofsted duly approved that plan full of Hurley’s Finest Crispy Word Salad and this was what the city was judged upon in October 2022.

On Tuesday, like a disappointing range of Homechoice Lettings, the letter from Ofsted was published on Bristol’s Local Offer. The result found the city to have made ‘sufficient progress’ in addressing four of the significant weaknesses. Their failure to deliver on the fifth one will see the DfE and NHS England determine next steps.

It is likely the DfE and NHS England will be knee-deep in Mary Shelley wondering how to resurrect the fractured relationship with parent carers in Bristol. Despite Asher Craig’s freshly spun upbeat take on the future of coproduction, it won’t be bouncing back like Lazarus. But she probably will construct a parent carer equivalent of a Mayoral Commission. That will work fine until families hit off rolling, Annual Review and an unspecified Section F in their Christmas stocking. One word about that and Bristol Comms will locate their Twitter account whilst social care buries their EHCP provision.

‘Minimising’ Minns said that: ‘Ofsted and CQC will not carry out any further revisit unless directed to do so by the Secretary of State.’ Good news for him. Some crappy coursework despite a brutal parent carer feedback session to Ofsted, equals job done for his department. Good luck to the next city awaiting their inspection. Tenner it goes down like Minimiser is on a parking meter.

Minimiser led the re-inspection alongside an Ofsted Inspector and a Children’s Services Inspector from the CQC. The letter says they spoke with children and young people with Send, parents and carers as well as the Local Authority (LA) and NHS officers.

Inspectors looked at a ‘range of information’ about performance, including improvement plans and self-evaluations.

The main findings and letter can be found here:

The first area of weakness in the original report was The lack of accountability of leaders at all levels, including school leaders.

Bristol has made ‘considerable progress since the last inspection’ Ofsted finds. Not hard when the former iteration under Jacqui ‘We don’t need 20 caseworkers’ Jensen, wasn’t even sure what Send was but thought some pictures of kids on a piece of paper would do. I was at the meeting where that actually went down.

But wait. It’s not all a Sunday trip to the garden centre. In its section of praise, Minimiser also writes: ‘However, these improvements are not yet being experienced by all parents and carers. While some parents and carers have a more positive experience, many still feel that professionals do not communicate well, and they believe that their children are not well supported. Although there are examples of co-production (a way of working where children, families and those who provide the services work together to create a decision or a service that works for them all), this is not an established way of working between area leaders and parents and carers.’

‘Leaders know that some children and young people with SEND still do not get the support they need quickly enough. However, leaders have ensured that improving the support available for children and young people with SEND is a key feature of the major improvement programmes in health, care and education services.’

So bad luck for the children and young people who are not getting the support they need quickly enough, nor those who believe their children are ‘not well supported’.

I regularly hear from families, sometimes in tears, that their children are not supported at all. Often, these children are deliberately pushed out, sometimes even goaded into a meltdown so they can be unlawfully sent home. The families struggling the most are usually the ones least able to feedback or challenge unlawful action.

Since the original inspection, I have been to Sendist twice – including this year – for schools breaking equality laws due to unfavorable treatment, unlawful exclusion and failure to implement Reasonable Adjustments or the EHCP.

One school was in South Gloucestershire, but Bristol City Council funded and remained responsible for the plan. At my initial stage one complaint, the council believed the school when they said they were carrying it out. After pushing the issue to stage two, the council apologised and found that the school was not implementing the plan nor putting in place reasonable adjustments. Something later echoed at Sendist.

Another school in Bristol – since the initial Ofsted inspection – one described in a SAR by the council’s own legal team as ‘provocative’ also raised concerns with council staff for the treatment of my child after not implementing his EHCP. They were later found legally breaking equality laws.

Families contact me in despair that schools are issuing detentions for reasons related to disability. For forcing pupils on part time timetables or phoning up parents and asking them to collect during the school day. These are both children who have EHCPs and children who don’t but clearly should. These Send failures I’ve heard even this month include children dropping out of education entirely.

To find the council making ‘sufficient’ progress in a city where there is no accountability for a significant number of families whose children and young people’s educations are being trashed is not acceptable.

Here’s another Crap Canva. Works for Cabinet members.

The second area of weakness in the original report was – 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.

Whilst the report praised perceived improvements, Minimiser also wrote: ‘Parents and carers remain worried that many schools do not give children and young people with SEND the support they need. However, there has been a cultural shift in the way that professionals and schools work together. This is improving the way that they work together to meet the needs of children and young people with SEND. Even so, this is not yet experienced by many parents and carers, who still have difficulty getting the right support for their children to stay in education.’

The report also stated: ‘Leaders are taking steps to reduce the waiting times for neurodiversity diagnosis and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) assessments. For example, a team of occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and educational psychologists have been introduced to review children in schools and ensure that school staff and other professionals are trained to offer strategies to children and families.’

Bristol is a city which uses high levels of Alternative Learning Provision. In fact, it’s so high that often families are struggling to access provision for children that have been pushed out. Maths tutoring appears to be particularly difficult, as we found after my own child spent an academic year with no maths lessons at all.

Even mentioning ALP is a triggering subject for Bristol City Council. These two Tweets drew the ire of both the Sendias service and the council so much, it was mentioned in the council’s investigation into its spying. Of me.

Brucie Bonus, one of my kids was referred to CAMHS 18 months ago and despite one initial appointment a couple of three months back, that was it.

I’ve recently been informed by families that the current wait for an autism assessment in Bristol now stands at FIVE years. Bravo on a job well done. PASS.

The third area of weakness in the original inspection was – The dysfunctional EHC plan process, and inadequate quality of EHC plans

Whilst Ofsted has judged that Bristol has made sufficient progress with ‘real improvements to the timeliness and quality of EHCPs’ it also said that ‘weaknesses remain’.

Ofsted also said: ‘Some children and young people still have to wait too long for an EHC plan to be in place.’

I cannot iterate enough how many desperate families there are in the EHCP process. Some of these are right at the start of the process, so these are not historic cases.

Minimiser Minns’ ‘real improvements to the timeliness’ can be seen here in council papers to People Scrutiny next week. There are currently 20 children who have been waiting more than a year for their EHCP, but check this nugget of wisdom out.

‘All 20 cases which exceed the 52-week timescale will have finalised EHC plans by the 30th of November.’ Who wrote this? Own up? Because what about the 70 plans coming through which are just about to tip the year mark?

The fourth area of weakness was – The underachievement and lack of inclusion of children and young people with SEND, including the high rates of persistent absenteeism and fixed-term exclusions.

Despite praise for improvement, Ofsted said: ‘Nevertheless, parents and carers continue to report that some schools do not support their children. Some
parents and carers also say that a number of schools are reluctant to admit children who have SEND.’

Minimiser wrote: ‘One school leader summed up the strategic direction when they said that there is now far more commitment to reducing exclusion and improving attendance across the city. However, this leader recognised that the work was still at an early stage.’

‘The proportion of children and young people with an EHC plan who have been excluded from school has fallen, but is still higher than the national average.’

As a parent who had a child suspended in the period of time between inspection and reinspection, I know how deeply unfair the system is and how it sets up children to fail.

One of the more insidious exclusions that happens in Bristol, usually ahead of off rolling, is unlawful exclusion. Because it is unlawful, there are no records of the schools which are doing them, although families in the Send community tend to talk to each other.

We have also found none, absolutely no support for children and young people who become so anxious they become unable to go to school. This often leaves children at home with no education for what can run from months to a year. Often, ‘mum’ is blamed for this when it’s usually an inclusion failure by the school and and EHCP issue with the council.

The fifth area of weakness that inspectors found at the original inspection was – The fractured relationships with parents and carers, lack of co-production and variable engagement and collaboration

On this, Bristol did not pass.

Minimiser wrote in his letter: ‘The difficult relationships found at the last inspection have continued. This continues to affect the quality of co-production that takes place between area leaders and parent and carers.

‘Parents and carers have a more mixed view of the quality of support available to children and young people with SEND than at the time of the last inspection.

‘Some parents and carers continue to lack trust in the system and feel that leaders are not acting in the best interests of their children. However, the majority of parents and carers accessing services and support more recently are positive about their experience.

‘The area is committed to co-production, engagement and collaboration with parents and carers. The systems and structures that have underpinned the improvements achieved since the last inspection have been developed with parents and carers. However, there is currently no formal structure in place to make sure this continues.

‘Everyone shares a commitment to getting the best outcomes for children and young people with SEND in Bristol. Parent and carer representatives, along with area leaders, are committed to working in partnership in the best interests of children and young people with SEND.

‘Plans are in place to re-establish a formal body to represent parents and carers. Until this is in place, parent and carer representatives and area leaders must ensure that co-production with parents and carers is maintained.

‘The area has not made sufficient progress in addressing this significant weakness.’

One could quite write a book on Bristol City Council’s Spies, Lies and-No Production. The council forced the newly formed Parent Carer Forum out of coproduction and covertly spied on its Chair and Vice Chair.

Now, rather like a Pop Idol manufactured girl group in the early 2000s, the Mayor’s office appears keen to create a carefully cast and stage managed version of coproduction. One which isn’t actually coproduction but is there for tokensim, tick-box and to show everyone how wonderful the council is with Send parents.

As one of the parents who has been spied on by Bristol City Council, they can bite me. Through celebration and Crap Canva, they, along with Mr Minimiser, continue to gas light families who are pushed to hell. And even when those families get there, there is further hell.

The issues with Send in Bristol are not historic. They are not in the past. They are right here now in the present. The families waiting a year for an EHCP. The families who can’t get a specialist place. The kids being pushed out of mainstream. The ones discriminated against by schools because of their disability. The kids who aren’t getting social care provision. EHCP provision. Waiting a year for CAMHs. Two years. Managed Moves. Unlawfully excluded. The families waiting five years for an autism assessment. The families who made the mistake of posting a comment on the Bristol Local Offer Facebook page who are now being spied on. The kids in taxis for hours because there are no schools near them. The families forced to SENDIST. The kids waiting for the provision. The families who complained and are ghosted by the council. The kids whose parents have to watch like a hawk all the time because they have been pushed so far by Send incompetence that they try to kill themselves.

These are not historic issues. They cannot be laundered in Vanish and spun out by the Mayors office. Doing so minimising the utter misery this council is continuing to inflict on the city’s families and the city’s children.

No matter what Mr Minimiser from Ofsted says, We know families are continuing to be failed. But Bristol families will always be there to help pick up the pieces of council incompetence.

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