Bristol City Council has been producing far fewer SEND care plans than parents were led to believe.
Opposition councillors discovered the truth after questioning the accuracy of official figures.
Bristol24/7 relies on your support to fund our independent journalism and social impact projects. Become a member and enjoy exclusive perks from just £5 per month.
Local authorities have a statutory obligation to complete education, health and care plans (EHCPs) for children and young people with special educational needs or a disability (SEND) within 20 weeks.
According to official figures, Bristol City Council produced 169 plans in April, May and June, and four of them were completed within the statutory time frame.
But, in truth, the council produced only 36 EHCPs that quarter and none were completed on time.
The following quarter it produced 138 EHCPs and only one was on time.
Liberal Democrat councillor for Hengrove & Whitchurch Park Tim Kent has called the official figures “complete garbage” and accused the council of “intentionally” misleading parents.
But a council spokesman claimed: “We have been open and honest with parents about the issues and are working hard to address them.”
The figures were supplied as a written answer to Green councillor Clive Stevens at a scrutiny meeting on November 28.
The disparity between the raw figures and the information publicly available in official reports prompted Kent to seek further information from a council officer after the meeting.
The officer clarified the EHCP figures supplied in quarterly performance reports actually reflected a rolling 12-month total.
This means over the entire 12 months to April this year, four of 169 plans were produced on time – only two per cent.
Just one of 234 plans produced in the 12 months to the end of September was completed on time – less than 0.5 per cent.
Kent, who has previously called Bristol’s SEND services a “disaster”, said: “I feel that the commission and parents have been intentionally misled.
“Where we had looked at these figures at the previous [people scrutiny] meeting, no attempt was made to clarify that the 169 figure (EHCPs completed) was an annual one rather than over three months as presented.
“It is very clear that senior officers and councillors either did not understand key performance figures themselves or failed to inform the committee, the media and the public that their presentation was incorrect.
“Over the past couple of years statistics and performance figures from this department have consistently been found to be wrong.
“Senior officers and the cabinet are aware of this yet despite this it continues to happen.”
A strategic intelligence officer at the meeting said the data collection system was being reviewed.
A council spokesperson said: “What is important is the work we are doing to improve the current provision for children with special educational needs which we know currently falls way below the mark.
“The wider context of funding cuts and an increase in the amount of children needing SEND services means this transformation cannot happen overnight, however recruitment is underway to bring the EHCP targets up to standard and give children and families the service they deserve.”
The council’s SEND team has appointed a new manager, and 23 members of staff are set to join the team in January, according to information supplied to Stevens.
Additional educational psychologists are also on their way, some of whom will be dedicated to clearing the backlog of incomplete EHCPs applications.
According to figures supplied at the meeting, the council’s SEND team has increased its productivity, completing 11 EHCPs in January and 44 in October, though only one of them was on time.
Kent said: “It is frankly unbelievable that with a backlog of hundreds of these, we’re talking at some months single figures.”
The council has blamed the “under-performance” on “staffing shortages” and “other resourcing issues” as well as a rising number of EHCP assessment requests.
The 2019/20 people directorate performance report for quarter two said: “There are significant issues with the number of Educational Health Care Plans that are issued within timescales.
“A service restructure is underway to address the under‐performance.
“New working practices have also been designed to improve statutory timescales and quality of service to families and young people.”
The performance reports are the responsibility of Jacqui Jensen, executive director of adults, children and education.
Neither Jensen nor the new director of education and skills, Alison Hurley, attended the meeting of the people scrutiny commission.
Amanda Cameron is a local democracy reporter for Bristol