A blueprint setting out how Bristol City Council will address significant failings in provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) has been published.
The statement has been written in response to a damning report by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) that highlighted a catalogue of concerns they said require urgent action.
The assessment, published in December, came in the wake of well-publicised failings that campaigners say have been devastating for the many families let down by the system.
Commenting on the publication of the written statement of action, Anna Keen, Bristol City Council’s cabinet lead for education, said there are “no quick fixes to the issues that have built up over a long period of time”, but stated work is taking place “at pace” to improve provision for families.
The 35-page document, which has been produced in partnership with health and education partners, parents and carers, sets out a plan and timeline for addressing the key failings highlighted in December’s report. These include dysfunctional Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) statutory processes, high numbers of exclusions, a lack of accountability of leaders and fractured relationships with parents and carers.
Keen, who has vowed to do better for some of the city’s most vulnerable children, said work to improve SEND was already well underway prior to the inspection.
“The current issues in SEND, including EHCP process delays, have been built up over a long period of time so we know there are no quick fixes,” she said.
“However, we have been working at pace to improve SEND, including significantly increasing the size of our SEND team to improve EHCP timescales, which we know have a significant impact on families with SEND.
“It was important to us to co-produce the written statement of action with parents and carers. It means we now have a road map for tackling each of the areas highlighted by Ofsted and the CQC in-depth alongside our partners in health and schools, which will help us deliver the improvements we know our families with SEND want to see.”
Campaigners, some of whom have called for resignations in the wake of the ongoing SEND crisis, say it will take a lot to restore confidence in city leaders.
The plan of action has been approved by Ofsted and the CQC, representatives of which will revisit Bristol approximately 18 months after the initial inspection to evaluate how effectively issues have been addressed.
Alison Hurley, the council’s director for education and skills, said she believes the planned programme of improvements is “realistically achievable”.
She added “Given our very low starting point, we know that it will take longer than 18 months to fully achieve our ambitions and meet our obligations under the SEND Code of Practice in terms of issuing EHCPs and completing annual reviews, as well as gaining parental trust and confidence in the SEND system. However, our aspiration is far greater than many of the targets set out in the document, and our plans will reflect this.”
Chairperson of Bristol Parent Carers Nick Flaherty said continued engagement with representatives of SEND children and their families is key, adding: “We are pleased that Ofsted have recognised the needs and aspirations of parents and carers of children and young people with SEND in Bristol, and that council and health leaders have recognised the enormity of the scale of improvement required to address the long-standing, serious weaknesses identified by the inspection.”
A dedicated telephone advice and information service for families currently receiving care in Bristol has been set up to provide support during the coronavirus pandemic.
Main photo courtesy of Bristol Independent Send Community