Families Waiting Over a Year for Bristol EHCPs

Bristol City Council continues to break laws around Education Health Care Plans (EHCP) with the process taking over a year for many children and young people in the city.

Papers to People Scrutiny Commission show that in July 2022, there were nearly 300 families in the process that were experiencing unlawful delays.

The decision to carry out an assessment as well as the assessment itself, must take no longer than 20 weeks.

But in July, there were 85 families who were between week 21 and 30, 76 families between 31 and 40 weeks, 26 families between 41 and 51 weeks and 90 who had been waiting longer than a year.

The report says: ‘The 90 cases which have already exceeded this timescale will all be allocated a SEND Assessment Coordinator, with the aim of issuing a draft plan by 30 September 2022 at the latest. Currently, these children will be accessing ordinarily available provision and in-school support through the graduated response. Out of the 90 cases, over half are in receipt of additional funding to support non-statutory support plans.’

Bristol City Council says that Ordinarily Available Provision (OAP) is ‘the resources and support we expect to be available for children and young people with SEND in mainstream education settings.’

The council has produced a guide to OAP and published it on their Local Offer website.

But it’s emerging from parents this week that schools – such as Blaise High School in Bristol – have implemented behaviour policies such as Ready To Learn, without taking into consideration the council’s Ordinarily Available Provision.

Families have spoken online about exclusions, the withdrawal of SEN support and EHCPs which are not being implemented.

School exclusion data for Bristol released in July showed that Blaise High School had the highest number of suspensions – previously known as Fixed Term Exclusions – of all schools in the city during the academic year 2020/21. During this period, the school issued 600 official suspensions. The school coming second to this on the data table was Oasis Acadmey Brightstowe, with 290.

Ready to Learn behaviour policies have been cited as an issue in Bristol. An independent report looking at Alternative Learning Provision (ALP) in the city found that behaviour policies such as Ready to Learn, were disproportionately impacting on disabled pupils as well as other protected characteristics. This was causing further high use of ALP and disability discrimination.

The Education Health Care (EHC) Performance update report going to this months scrutiny meeting, is by Executive Director of People, Hugh Evans.

It blames ‘performance’ due to ‘the rise’ in new EHCNA requests, by 17 per cent from 2020 to 2021.

Historically, the number of EHCPs issued in Bristol since 2015 is an uneven one, with numbers dropping dramatically during 2017 and 2018. This coincides with the period of time Bristol City Council was unlawfully turning down requests for EHC Needs Assessments (EHCNA).

A surge was also seen in 2020 before significantly dropping back down again before 2021.

The Quarterly Performance Progress Report for Q4 – 2021/22, which went to Cabinet in July 2022, blamed insufficient recruitment as well as a rise in requests causing a backlog of EHCP delays.

The report said: ‘The percentage of final Education, Health & Care Plans (EHCPs) issued within 20 weeks (excluding exception cases) remained significantly below target, ending the year around 34%. Overall between Jan and Dec 2021 there were 546 EHC plans finalised, of which 185 were within the 20-week timescale, equating to 33.9% on time. Reasons for the poor performance include an increase in requests, coinciding with recruitment and retention issues in the SEND and
EP teams; a further growth bid for the team has been successful and recruiting new staff is underway to support improved performance. We recognise that previous recruitment was not sufficient to secure the progress required.’

Evans said in his report: ‘Funding was agreed in 2022 for five additional staff who started in July 2022. These staff will go through a six to eight month period of learning and development before they become fully competent in their role. Retention within the Assessment Team has been high.’

This is despite earlier revelations that campaigning Send parents were told by senior council bosses that they were responsible for SEN caseworkers leaving. People Scrutiny Commission also heard in 2021, that SEN caseworkers were leaving because they preferred to work in Asda due to the pressure of working in the Local Authority team.

People Scrutiny Commission will be taking place on Monday 26 September.

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