Bristol Send pupils are still waiting for school places to become available in the city
There are 213 Bristol Send pupils who are currently without a specialist school place, according to new figures from Bristol City Council.
Bristol City Council disclosed the information to Sally Kent of Bristol Send Justice, in response to a question at Full Council in December 2023.
‘Bristol City Council said: ‘This figure accounts for children and young people with an EHCP and those currently moving through a EHC Needs Assessment, where it has been identified may require a specialist setting.
‘Since 2020, BCC has been working with partners to increase the SEND estate, within the city, through the Specialist Sufficiency Project. The project has delivered a total of 288 specialist places.
‘The delivery of an additional 130 placements is underway and further opportunities are being explored.
‘The DfE has accepted BCC’s application for a special free school, which will deliver, an additional 164 places for the city. This provision is forecasted to open in academic year 2026.’
This looks to fall short of outgoing Mayor Marvin Rees’ election promise. His 2021 reelection campaign manifesto aimed to tackle historic Send failings in Bristol.
Rees said in point 11 of his manifesto: ‘Increase the range and quality of specialist provision for children and ensure that their needs are met in a timely and appropriate way, including 450 specialist school places within the next three years. Provide more focused support and investment for children in mainstream schools. Transform Bristol’s SEND provision and support for children and families with SEND through to adulthood.’
In December 2022, Asher Craig – Deputy Mayor with responsibility for Children’s Services, Education and Equalities – wrote in an online blog that the LA had recognised that Bristol needed more specialist places back in 2021.
‘As a local authority we recognised that our city needed more specialist provision places back in 2021, and we made the decision to set this work in motion, making a Mayoral pledge to create 450 new, specialist provision places within three years. Specialist provision places are for children who have an education, health and care (EHC) plan. Creating these new places across our city takes time and proper planning, and we know this won’t feel quick enough for all families, but real progress is being made.’
In actual fact, a shortage of specialist school places in Bristol was identified as far back as 2011. It finally reached crisis point in 2019 – well into Rees’ and Craig’s terms.
As well as continuing to face a severe shortage of specialist places, Bristol City Council also released a breakdown of children and young people of all ages with EHCPs and where they are educated in Bristol.
Explaining the data, the council said: ‘The reliance on alternative learning provision has increased due to the volume of demand into the service and the requirement for specialist provision.’
But in 2019, Bristol City Council commissioned PeopleToo, to investigate why Bristol had such a high use of ALP. The report concluded with 31 recommendations.
One of the reasons found for high use of ALP was due to the critical lack of specialist school places. The report authors estimated at the time that around 70 per cent of ALP places were filled by pupils with Send or were going through the needs assessment process.
They wrote: ‘Some ALP providers are at risk of turning into special schools but are not registered as such,’ the report warned. It also states that it is ‘normal’ to have some Send pupils within ALP ‘but not to see the numbers at this high percentage’
The current lack of suitable places in Bristol can be seen in the rise in number of pupils in Alternative Learning Provision (ALP) both in and out of Bristol, Child Missing Education (CME), Education Other Than At School (EOTAS), Home School, Not in Education or Employment (NEET). This makes up for 7 per cent of all EHCPs in 2023.
A lack of suitable places for anxious autistic pupils can also be seen through the number of pupils in Hospital Education, which has also soared over the last three years.
Back in February 2023, a paper authored by Gail Rodgers, went to Cabinet to secure funding for a specialist short breaks service.
It said: ‘We have collected data that shows there are 129 CYP with autism, or on the pathway, who are missing education of which a significant proportion
is because of underlying anxiety.’
There were also 282 ‘unknown’ locations for Bristol’s children and young people. The council’s response for unknown locations is due to data issues – an ‘educational institution’ not being in their databases. Or, a pupil enrolment has not successfully been logged. Both of these are being addressed with the ‘wider technical issue in review with BCC data teams’.
However, there are only 10 pupils officially logged as being a child missing education last year. This number is liable to heavily fluctuate according to when a pupil’s education setting fails and they are no longer in education. It’s far lower than the 129 anxious pupils missing education, with the inference of Rodgers’ report suggesting they are not attending Alternative Learning Provision either.
Sally Kent highlighted the council’s figures on X, calling into question recent narratives around the costs of home to school transport and independent specialist school fees which have dominated headlines recently, especially around often misunderstood ‘parental choice’.
Kent said: ‘This is a disaster of epic proportion in placement planning. No one is held to account – Marvin Rees should have resigned a long time ago over this scandal.’
The Our Families Programme Transformation Overview sent to Overview and Scrutiny Management Board -in December2023 called ‘The planning for specialist education provision’ being ‘underway’ a ‘key achievement’ for 2023/24.
But Bristol City Council has not had an Executive Director of Education since the Autumn of 2023 after the departure of Abi Gbago. Whilst Director of Children and Families is covering in the interim, the latest Director for Education, Hannah Woodhouse, will not be starting until February 2024.
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