Bristol Education and SEND

Why is Bristol SEND so Bad? It’s a Choice

I’m into my sixth appeal to the First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability). I’ve recently come through the LGO with a win, I have other complaints pending, a submission in at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal for unlawful covert surveillance by Bristol City Council and further legal action bubbling under the surface regarding Send which at the moment is best left out of the public domain.

It’s because Bristol Send has been rubbish. Having seen a series of highly paid Directors, Executive Directors, Interim Directors, Interim Executive Directors and a series of Cabinet Education leads with behaviour that would have triggered Orwell, one would have thought things might have improved for families – if even by accident.

They have not improved here. And with the many millions the High Needs Block staggers over, the only real answer to this must be that the system is deliberately designed to be this way.

As I write, I am waiting for one of my child’s tutors to be paid for the last 7 months of work undertaken. I am waiting for anyone to get back to me about an education setting placement which was failing last Monday when I wrote emails and has now most likely failed due to their lack of action.

I have a child who is described as bright. Capable. Easy to educate. Capable of getting good GCSEs. So why is it so hard to educate a child like this? I say child, we are now firmly transitioning into adulthood. One with no prospect of employment due to having no GCSEs and no prospect of further education due to severe post traumatic stress due to an education setting that treated the child so badly, it scarred them for life.

It’s hard to imagine schools doing this. If you haven’t experienced it yourself. It must be the child’s fault. The mum’s fault. The family’s fault. Some kind of terrible moral failing.

The fact is it isn’t. After Bristol City Council deliberately and unlawfully failed to allow my child to have an Education Health Care Needs Assessment in 2016, the path of failure was laid out. Yet on that path of failure was a local authority deliberately putting up barrier after barrier like their stupid incompetence on the Nelson Street pavement. In fact, the Nelson Street pavement is probably a good visual metaphor for Send. The pavement and cycling lane is fixed. No it isn’t it’s dangerous. Barriers up. Barriers down. Barriers up. Barriers down. Who even knows. That’s Bristol Send, but throw in a few million to waste at the same time in the wrong ways and you have the People Directorate.

Being stuck on the outskirts of Central Bristol, there aren’t a lot of secondary school options. Most of them are academies with bizarre backdoor criteria, which means local children can’t go to them. Ending up with a large mainstream school in the North of Bristol I made sure we had meetings with them prior to the start of year 7 to ensure Send provision was in place from the beginning.

As it was, they cocked it all up and over the next two years, even though my child barely attended because of anxiety, managed to traumatise them so badly that no other education setting has been viable. The nature of the school was completely unhinged. Staff would deliberately shout in my child’s face, sent them home unlawfully for being autistic, harangued them in the inclusion department for reasons related to their disability – I heard it all very clearly over a phone line. The meetings I had were hideous.

At one point, a professional from Bristol City Council attended a school meeting and their jaw dropped and hung open at the way they spoke to my child. The child never went back after that meeting but the damage was done. And yet, those same staff who are responsible for the PTSD my child now experiences are allowed to continue to inflict that abuse on other vulnerable children. I shudder to think of them working with autistic children. It’s a horrific prospect.

One might think a specialist setting would have worked out OK, but even Bristol City Council couldn’t get them to follow the EHCP.

And when I looked at the provision map for the current placement I’m hoping to salvage for the last few weeks of term, I wonder why high needs funding was asked for when there was clearly no intention of doing the provision. In my layman’s terms, that feels a bit like, I don’t know, fraud? But I’ve noticed over the years that education settings have often gleefully taken high needs funding for my child then not done the provision.

Have you read the EHCP? There’s provision for that in the EHCP. Have you read the EHCP? There’s provision for that in the EHCP. I’m not sure how many more years I need to say this. Some days I feel like setting the EHCP on fire. It was a good EHCP. Well written. But the problem is either getting the funding or getting any setting at all to follow it. You’d think after mainstream secondary, specialist and early college someone would have actually bothered with it. But no. It’s just a thick door stop for all the use it’s been most of the time.

But where’s Bristol City Council in all this? That’s right. Consultant after consultant working on who knows what. A mayor taking credit for the expansion of specialist school places after years of families pleading publicly to make them available.

We have EHCPs with Section F provision that the council will decide at panel if they will allow. It would be laughable if it were not entirely unlawful and with such a devastating impact on children.

We have a council that is determined my child must suffer an education setting in their Section I because in their opinion they are getting on well. Perhaps its fine for their children to self harm in school and try and kill themselves instead of attending. But it’s not fine for mine.

This is the reality of Send parenting in Bristol. Often it’s about keeping your child alive against council incompetence, school discrimination, CAMHS waiting lists of over a year – and then if you’re lucky them not kicking you off the waiting list after that year.

Funny story, after waiting a year for my other child to see CAMHS recently, they saw them once, decided that was it and discharged them. Go to the GP for a referral to the community paediatrician I was told. I wonder if she knew when she did that about the restrictive criteria that had been brought it. Because I’m waiting to hear back as to whether that referral was successful.

I have not been quiet about these issues since 2018. The trigger for me being when I put in my first EHCNA for my second child to receive an email saying they did not have it. Having been through this system for enough years now, I suspect this meant they deleted it on purpose. That’s how it’s worked from time to time. The Bristol SEN team have at times been told to close to new EHCNAs.

It took 50 weeks for the EHCNA to turn into an EHCP and my other child’s 46 weeks at the same time. In the meantime, what happens to the child who desperately needs that EHCP? Trauma and discrimination. None of this is in the slightest way exaggeration and I would be only too happy to post every single Sendist ruling here would it not trigger a legal headache for the rest of the year. I don’t have the time for that this year. Maybe next year though…

In Bristol, we are in a cycle of strategic incompetence at the council Bad Send – Highly Paid Directors – Apologies – Lessons Will Be Learned. And repeat. Except, on top of this is a an air of paranoia. When it comes up in conversation that the council has spied on me people look at me as if I’m mad. Paranoid or deluded. The fact is, it’s true. Staff on different pay levels, cross departments and cross executive directors and directors were involved. Tempted as I am just to post a link to the SAR which took six months to get, the sheer volume is too much to ensure all my children’s details are redacted. But yes, Bristol City Council spies on people who stand up against its ‘weak men’ and say no.

So today is another day of bad Send. Or non-existent Send really. It’s where I sit in a crap housing association flat that’s overcrowded, miserable, depressing, where you get attacked by drug dealers dogs in the corridor or get kept awake most nights through the Bristol privilege circus outside – interspersed with drug deals gone bad and fights with bricks during the day. And I wonder WTF I’m going to do on a princely carers allowance supporting a child into adulthood who has been so let down, so traumatised by all the professionals meant to help them. I wonder how I’m supposed to carry on doing this in a city that hates its autistic population so much.