£1.3m boost to tackle city's special needs education crisis

January 29 2020

Bristol City Council is proposing an increase to its Special Education Needs and Disability (SEND) budget by more than £1.3m for 2020/21.
Some children and young people may require more help to learn and develop than others, and if their needs are not successfully met by support in their local school or education placement, they might need to access SEND services or national statutory processes. SEND services are teams across education, health and social care for children and young people aged from 0-25 who are identified by the local area as having additional or complex needs.
The proposed budget boost will help the council to fund its Education Transformation Programme (a long-term plan to develop, improve and transform its education service - including SEND) and address the Ofsted/Care Quality Commission (CQC) Inspection findings of SEND services across Bristol’s local area, which were published at the end of 2019.
Ofsted and the CQC carried out their joint, statutory, local area inspection of SEND over five consecutive days in September and October 2019. However, the publication of the findings was delayed due to the general election. A team of inspectors looked at how effectively services provided by the council, education settings and health care providers identify and meet the needs of children and young people with SEND, as well as how their outcomes can be improved. They spoke with groups including children and young people with SEND and their parents and carers in early years, schools and post-16 education settings, as well as the Bristol Parents and Carers Forum, NHS professionals at the Clinical Commissioning Group and health partners providing autism, mental health and speech and language services.
 The Ofsted/CQC inspection found that the implementation of the 2014 Special Education Needs (SEN) reforms in Bristol has been too slow and fragmented. However, inspectors recognised that since 2018 there have been noticeable improvements in the leadership of SEND in the local area, but that parents, carers and children will not have seen the benefits of this improvement to date. In addition, they also responded positively to plans for a new diagnostic pathway for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) assessment, the impact this will have on assessment times and the clarity this will provide to parents and carers.
Commenting on the announcement, Councillor Anna Keen, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills said: “Like many other local authorities across England we are transforming a service which continues to see increasing demand while being critically underfunded by central government.
“Funding for SEND is a priority for us and we will continue to ask the government for fair and appropriate levels of funding that match our needs in Bristol; however this is of immense importance and we must act now, so are looking to make the necessary adjustments in our budget to ensure we can fund the programme now and drive improvements for the future.”
Councillor Eleanor Combley also added: “Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission have looked into how we provide for the children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities in Bristol, and they have found significant problems. Arrangements for identifying and assessing children and young people with SEND are inconsistent, the plans made to ensure they get the support they need are inadequate, and rates of persistent absenteeism and fixed-term exclusion are high.
“I have been warning about the amount of churn in Bristol City Council’s senior leadership team for years, so I was not surprised to see this report identify turbulence in the leadership of the council and the Clinical Commissioning Group (NHS) as an issue, as it has resulted in them not doing enough to hold each other, or school leaders, to account.
“Many parents have had terrible experiences trying to get their children’s needs identified and met, and there is nothing I can say or do to magic that away. But as councillors we will be holding the senior leadership team to their promises to give this the highest priority and do everything they can to turn this service around.”
Councillors met to discuss the proposal (including the wish to reallocate money generally available to schools into the High Needs Block (HNB), a budget specifically for children and young people with additional needs) at the Schools Forum at City Hall on January 15.
Under the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) regulations, local authorities can move up to 0.5% of their allocated budget, which will be just over £1.3m, to areas of greatest need. The DSG funding also shows an increase to the HNB budget from central government of 13% from £53.9m to over £60m.
The council was due to consider its 2020/21 budget at Cabinet on 20 January where it was also  seeking to increase resources to help improve statutory assessment processes and Education Health Care (EHC) plan timeframes. An update on this will be provided in our next edition.
To find out more about the findings of the Ofsted/CQC inspection, visit: www.bristol.gov.uk/policies-plans-strategies/ofsted-and-cqc-inspection-send-report