Marvin Rees Special School Segregation Comments Sparks Concern

  • Marvin Rees special school segregation comments leads to concern about personal philosophies causing lack of special school places
  • Send Specialist Education is Segregation Marvin Rees says
  • Rees denies pupils are without school places despite education Cabinet lead and press office confirmation of statistic

A worrying trend of ideologically driven philosophy regarding education and inclusion, may be causing a lack of action on providing specialist school places in Bristol.

For most of his term over the last five years, elected Mayor, Marvin Rees, has remained tight-lipped on a growing crisis in Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (Send). Whilst it is widely accepted that the crisis in Bristol is one that has grown over the last decade, the current crisis in the city, described as a crisis within a much bigger national Send crisis, has become a pressing issue since 2016 – the same year Rees’ became Mayor.

It was the year that Bristol City Council began to unlawfully turn down Education Health Care Assessments (EHCA) ignoring criteria set out in the children and Families Act 2014. Consequently, as more children and young people with emerging Send came into the system, those who had already been turned down were reapplying, driving up the numbers.

I think that segregated schooling for children with SEN actually should be the last option” – Marvin Rees

Poor strategic management from the Executive Director of People alongside an Interim Director of Education who refused to increase capacity in the SEN team continued to fuel the fiasco. That’s not even including Cabinet approving cuts of millions from the High Needs Block which were only reversed when Bristol City Council were taken to court by Send parents in the summer of 2018.

Other issues in the Send system include the creation of a Bristol Support Plan, a non-statutory plan capable of further delaying EHCNAs. There were the Top Up panels that never happened. SEN data that was so unreliable that even Bristol City Council officers couldn’t use it. There’s now Sendist which is being used as an extension to the EHCP crisis – now so bad that the council’s Ofsted and CQC target is to aim for timeliness in just 20 per cent of cases. Bristol’s High Needs Block is continually out of control. The city has had the highest use of Alternative Provision (AP) outside of London, and, a long-term predicted lack of special school places coming to fruition.

Going out to a segregated school is not necessarily the best option” – Marvin Rees

Getting Rees to engage with Send is something that parents and carers in the city have found an impossibility. The moment finally arrived on Sunday 14 March 2021, after eagle-eyed Facebook users noticed a video by Rees on the Mayor’s Facebook page surreptitiously attempting to hide comments about Send. It was the catalyst for Rees to finally open up about Bristol Send and when it came, it brought surprise and shock.

Today in Bristol there are 250 children and young people who are eligible for specialist settings.” – Councillor Anna Keen

Bristol parent, Sandra Thomas-Fitzner, succeeded in getting Rees to answer a question about Send on a Facebook Live video. This is a regular broadcast Rees does as part of his engagement with the public. Thomas-Fitzner asked: ‘When are you actually going to address the Send Crisis.’

During the Live video, Rees appears to be reading from a document out of sight, until he came to his opinion on education inclusion.

He said: ‘But actually, our view is that for many of those children where they can mainstream education with adequate support rather than segregation in specialist education is the best place is the best place from which they can not only get support for their academic journey, but their social journey and learning those social skills, that they’re going to need once they leave the education system as well.’

So first off there are not 250 children without a school place” – Marvin Rees

Referring to specialist education as ‘segregation’ caused upset amongst the Bristol Send community. Referring to it in these terms on one occasion could have been a mistake – with an apology.

But not only was no apology forthcoming, Rees referred to specialist education being segregation for a second time in an interview with John Darvall and Bristol Send parent Sammy Turner on Thursday 19 March.

Yeah, that is the number of children who are currently in need of a specialist place but likely to be offered a mainstream one come Sept.” Bristol City Council Press Office

Rees told Turner: ‘I also think that where it’s appropriate and where support can be provided and we’ve got over 3000 children with that support, that actually getting an education in a mainstream school, is the best option, and that going out to a segregated school is not necessarily the best option.’

In the Radio Bristol interview, Rees also argues with Turner regarding the 250 pupils without specialist school places telling her: ‘So first off there are not 250 children without a school place.’

But in a statement to Ellie Pipe of Bristol 24/7 for an article published 25/02/2021, not only does Bristol City Council press office confirm that the 250 is correct, Councillor Anna Keen gives a further statement stating: “Today in Bristol there are 250 children and young people who are eligible for specialist settings.”

Rees’ further assertation that £28m put into building or improving current specialist provision is also in doubt, after £4.5m was taken back by his own Cabinet in December 2020 to tackle a crisis in year 7 mainstream places in East Central Bristol.

Facebook Live video
Full transcript of Marvin Rees Facebook Live to Sandra Thomas-Fitzner
Full transcript of Marvin Rees and Sammy on John Darvall Radio Bristol 18/03/2021
Full statement of Anna Keen to Ellie Pipe of Bristol 247

The Facebook Live Video

Send discussion starts at 29:48 – video link:

Full Transcript of Marvin Rees reply on Facebook Live

‘So this a, I welcome the question with this as well. The Send Crisis has been addressed ever since Anna Keen became the Cabinet lead.

‘When she took over the portfolio, we became aware of the scale of the Send Crisis which did not start, and Anna’s has been very keen to say this, but not to say this, but I’m going to say it. The Send Crisis started 10 years ago with the building of a backlog of cases and a broken system.

‘What when Anna came in in 2017, she discovered the full extent of this. And then obviously the legal case came up and there’s a lot of tension started to be focussed on Send so we picked up a crisis and started to deal with it right from then.

‘So action has been there and our new director of education Alison Hurley as well. So I think most people know and certainly the schools know and and experts in the field know that stuff is being done. But that you know, it can’t be taken out of context. You know, austerity has been part of creating a national Send Crisis.

‘Judith Brakeley of Leeds who was the national LGA lead for children pointed to the £643m shortfall nationally, the councils like ours, we’re raiding other pots to try and make up for that shortfall because we weren’t getting sufficient support. Even Gillian Doherty of the campaign group campaign group SEND Action told the Observer that additional funding has not been sufficient.

‘So we’re dealing with that. That’s reality. And we do need that to be taken into taking into account.

‘But let’s look right on our performance on Send. From the review that happened, there were 175 milestones that were identified that we could take to make progress. Eighty six percent of those have now been met, and that’s in a very short time.

‘And these are set out, those milestones set out in our written statement of action. So 86 per cent of those being met in a very short time. And again, Anna comes in, Alison comes in, they grab this.

‘But you know the scale of the challenge is also very important. Sixty one thousand children in Bristol schools. Ninety four percent get allocated a school within their top three choices. Seventy five percent get their top choice. Of that sixty one thousand, three thousand one hundred and fifty children have EHCPs. Two thousand nine hundred of those children are at mainstream schools with support. So another two hundred and fifty children are yet to be fully supported of those sixty one thousand in total.

‘But some of those do need specialist places and we recognise that. But there seems to be a bit of a difference in the kind of sense of what people need. We do recognise that some people will need specialist places. But actually, our view is that for many of those children where they can mainstream education with adequate support rather than segregation in specialist education is the best place is the best place from which they can not only get support for their academic journey, but their social journey and learning those social skills, that they’re going to need once they leave the education system as well. And I think we should we need to provide specialist schooling.

‘But I think that segregated schooling for children with SEN actually should be the last option if we cannot offer mainstream education with adequate support. On that specialist education as well. It’s worth knowing that I’m sure you followed the news that we have committed twenty eight million pounds to to the provision of specialist education and that will go towards the refurbish and new builds for both Elmfield School for Deaf Children and Claremont Special School to provide buildings that were appropriate in meeting the needs of children and young people with Send.

‘Go to Project Rainbow, which is a delivery of a new independent living centre in partnership with the City of Bristol College, providing an additional 14 bed spaces for young adults with Send to you know experience independence, independent living at the Ashley Down campus. And in 2019/20, that’s the academic year, Sixteen point one percent of Bristol pupils received special educational need support or have had an education and health care plan that’s higher than the national rate, which is up 15 percent. So we also, by the way, have a formal Monitoring processes in place to review Bristol Send improvements since the 2019 inspection, so a lot has actually happened. Progress against those those measures, considerable amounts of money have been committed as they as they should be. But we know we’re making progress on that.’

Full Transcript of interview between Marvin Rees and Send parent Sammy Turner, on John Darvall’s Radio Bristol show 18/03/2021

Sammy: I just wondered how you thought it was acceptable or think it’s acceptable to plough millions into the restoration of the Bristol Beacon when you know that there are over 250 children with Special Educational Needs in your city who do not have a school place for September. Are they second best to bricks and mortar? And I speak on behalf of all SEND parents in your city.

Marvin Rees: So first off there are not 250 children without a school place.

Sammy: There are, we know that there are.

Rees: There aren’t. Every child has…

Sammy: There are.

Darvall: One at a time please, Marvin then I’ll come back to you Sammy

Rees: It’s not, it’s not actually the case. Every child in the city has a place. I think what we’ve had a difference over is whether they should have a place in a specialist school and we you know we’ve what I’ve been clear saying is I think where a specialist school, where an EHCP shows that a child should have a specialist school then that should be provided and in our Cabinet we put £28 million pounds into providing those additional specialist school places.

But actually I also think that where it’s appropriate and where support can be provided and we’ve got over 3000 children with that support that actually getting an education in a mainstream school is the best option. And that going out to a segregated school is not necessarily the best option.

Sammy: Marvin I just wonder why you think it’s appropriate to use the word ‘segregation’? for to describe Alternative Provision. Because there are children who like my son who’s nearly 10, still in nappies. Non verbal. Not able to hold a conversation. Still doing the work of a two-year-old at school. It wouldn’t be segregation for him to be where he is. It’s not segregation.

Rees: OK

Sammy: If you put my son into a ‘normal’ mainstream school with support, which might be a teaching assistant that they get a few hours with and then is taken off to be the dinner lady, And the £28m that you say, how much of that Marvin will be spent on tribunals because you force parents to go to tribunal before you assess for an EHCP and if they do get an EHCP, we know that you’re only planning to carry out EHCP assessment within 20 weeks at a rate of 20 per cent Marvin.

Darvall interrupts to explain what an EHCP is.

Darvall: Marvin Rees, Send has been a big thorn in your side. Answer the question there raised by Sammy about these plans and about the appropriate education and indeed development of children like her son.

Rees: I mean there’s lots being said there that you know would take a bit more time to go into but first of all I need to say so we’ve got a difference of interpretation of view on those 250 children. I have actually raised it with the BBC editorial team about a report that said 250 children were not having school places because it’s not actually the case and that is being looked into now in terms of that reporting. So we have children in, all the children have a place in mainstream school, with support….

Sammy: That support is not good enough…

Interruption from Darvall and Sammy

Rees: And that’s the point of the EHCP, the EHCP process will then guide us in deciding whether a place in a mainstream school with adequate, with appropriate support is the right place or whether it should be in separate provision and so we go with the EHCP process to follow that.

Trading that off against the Bristol Beacon, which I’m sure will come up today is actually not, is a different kettle of fish ’cause its a different funding pot that would be used for those two projects. So they are not trading off against each other and actually one of the reasons for continuing to support the Bristol Beacon is because of the educational opportunities that come from Bristol Music Trust that will be operating out of there, which is very important for our children and young people’s development across the city.

Sammy: The Bristol Music Trust will help children who are forced into mainstream school because there are no specialist places available for them now? There are children at home now that have been home for years. Because there aren’t enough specialist places. And we will not be silenced on this.

Rees: No-one is trying to silence anyone but we’re not forcing anyone into mainstream schools. The purpose of the EHCP…

Sammy: You are

Darvall takes over

Darvall: Marvin, I’ve got a couple of questions on this for you as the elected Mayor. The council acted illegally in 2018 by cutting the budget by £5m taken to court, you lost, you said it was ‘disappointing’. Who authorised that cut? Who said that was a good thing to do?

Rees: Well that come from, was in our processes with you know it would be, It comes onto my shoulders and a, ’cause I’m the elected Mayor but obviously we take advice on how we go about managing our budgets.

Darvall: So are you apologising for that?

Rees: Well I’m taking responsibility for it John, that’s what I’m just saying. I mean it’s, I’m the elected leader of the city, I take responsibility ultimately for decisions made in the Council, I don’t hide from that on any of the big decisions we’ve made.

But what I would say is I think that again a problem well defined is a problem half solved. We recognise that, you know, we’ve had an issue with SEND. The only thing I’d say in the name of what we started off by saying that – we have to have a fully rounded debate on this we are not the only city having that challenge and I say that not as a way of getting out of it but we do have to understand the context. There’s an over £600 million shortfall in national SEND funding, its a national crisis.

The National Education Union say we need an additional £2.1 billion a year to support local authorities to provide adequate support on SEND to our children. So we are in the middle of you know, a major funding challenge. Trying to take this challenge on along with a whole load of other… 61K children in our city that we’re supporting at this time and this is one of the crises that we have facing our children.

Darvall: So how many of those children are waiting for this EHCP which we’ve been talking about here. You say it’s not 250, not 250 school places? How many children are currently waiting for this plan which determines the support and where that support what that support comprises. How many are waiting.

Rees: We have over three thousand children at the moment on EHCPs in Bristol and what we’ve been doing is approaching the backlog through two, two ways which has actually caused a bit of a challenge. One is about clearing the backlog, as well as speeding up the process of new children who come in requiring an EHCP so taking chunks out of the wait list at from both ends which has actually impacted on the turnaround time as well because we’ve been clearing the backlog as well as dealing with those new coming into the process. But as I said john…

Darvall: So how many are waiting ‘ cuase this

Rees: I’d have to get, I’d have to get a final number on that for you and I can share that later today.

Can I just say John, because one of the charges made, and its constantly made is that nothing is happening and again you know, I wish I could make it happen yesterday but you know, it is a challenge. It was a problem that was building up for a long time, it blew up in 2017 it didn’t come out of thin air it is a long term building challenge. 175 recommendations made in the report that we had, 86% of those have now been delivered by our Director of Public Health, and £28 million committed to improving and increasing SEND provision in the city, so we are actually making progress.

Darvall: Ok ’cause that report that you refer to there is the Ofsted and CQC report which describes Send in Bristol as ‘shocking’ and ‘appalling’ and ‘disturbingly poor’ and cited ‘a lack of accountability of leaders.’ so I’ll be grateful if you could today copy me in on today, if you could publish on Twitter or wherever you like it, please copy me in, the number of children who are waiting for their plan and how long they have been waiting for their plan because that’s a very important piece of that particular story. I’ll let you come back now.

The result of the Ofsted CQC Joint Send Inspection report

Rees: Yeah John can I just say, That’s not the only thing the report said, so while the report did point to failures in the SEND process which again I say, it came to fruition on our watch but it’s a challenge that has been building for a long time within the city and I’ve had members of my family bump into it so its not that we’ve had a fantastic educational offer for some of the most at risk children in the city in Bristol’s history but we confronted that problem when we came in…

But it’s not the only thing the report said. the report did actually talk about the grip that you know, our leadership had begun to take of SEND, facing up to and understanding the challenges and getting hold of it but it was very frank about where we actually were at that point in time so I don’t think that’s a totally fair representation of what was being said about us.

Statement from Cabinet Lead for Education Anna Keen to Ellie Pipe of Bristol 24/7
Bristol 247 Article

Ellie Pipe: “So, does this mean there are currently 250 pupils eligible for specialist school placements this September who will be found places within mainstream schools instead (with specialist support)?”

Bristol City Council Press Office: “Yeah, that is the number of children who are currently in need of a specialist place but likely to be offered a mainstream one come Sept, however, as the next line states this number will change regularly.”

Full statement from Anna Keen given to Bristol 247

Councillor Anna Keen, Cabinet Lead for Education and Skills said: “Today in Bristol there are 250 children and young people who are eligible for specialist settings. However, this number changes regularly because the assessment and review processes for education, heath and care (EHC) plans are ongoing. Bristol City Council strives for full inclusion for all citizen and therefore it is to be expected that in some instances a mainstream school with specialist support is a more appropriate education setting for individual children and young people.

“We are putting in place an improved system of support for children and young people who have been identified as being in need of a specialist placement; this includes enhanced modifications within their mainstream setting provision of specialist equipment and access to advice from specialist school staff and external agencies. We have also set up a new panel to oversee the pocess of matching children and young people to specialist placements as they become available.

“Last year Cabinet approved the SEND Sufficiency and Capital programme which will invest over £28M in Bristol’s special schools, and result in major improvements to current special schools, as well as significantly increasing the number of specialist places available for students with SEND.

“This programme includes new-builds, as well as the modification and extension of current buildings, increasing capacity of our specialist schools, and creating more specialist school placements in mainstream schools. Gowever, out plans to increase specialist places across the city have experienced sicnificant and unavoidable delays due to the pandemic. Works underway include the relocation of Elmfield School for Deaf Children (Early and Primary Years) into a fully refurbished building, plus a new-build for Claremont Special School. Both these projects will result in buildings that appropriately meet the needs of children and young people with SEND.