July 26, 2021, Bristol Post: 'Huge' plans to fix Bristol's broken system for people with autism and learning difficulties https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/huge-plans-fix-bristols-broken-5693018 SW England
Bristol officials are attempting to fix the city’s broken system for children and adults with autism and learning difficulties, in the wake of two major damning reports.
Officers at Bristol City Council described their long-term plans for “huge” system reform this month as one parent said the failings identified by the reports reflected the “shambolic and contemptible way” autistic people and their families are treated in the city.
An independent review of ‘alternative’ education for children who struggle in mainstream schools in Bristol revealed a catalogue of failures when it was released last month.
Alternative learning settings are used inappropriately as a holding ground for children with special needs to make up for a shortage of special school places.
An independent inquiry the same month criticised the “abusive nature” of institutions in Bristol that are supposed to look after people with autism and learning difficulties and recommended they should shut. Sir Stephen Bubb, who carried out the inquiry, also said the city could no longer justifiably claim to be “autism friendly”….
Scrutiny councillors were updated on the council’s responses to the two most recent inquiries at a public meeting in City Hall on Monday, July 19.
They also heard about an ongoing shortage of special school places in the city, and a three-year plan to address it, and a nine-month backlog of statutory assessments of children with special needs.
Campaigner Jen Smith, who has two autistic children, told the people scrutiny commission: “Arguably, every item on this evening's agenda is inextricably linked. The overriding theme here is the shambolic and contemptible way with which autistic children, young people, adults and their families are treated….
Senior council officers agreed the system was in dire need of an overhaul but tried to assure councillors and the public of their best efforts to fix the system that has been failing for decades, warning it would not be a “quick fix”.
The local authority has accepted all the recommendations from both inquiries and is developing plans to implement them….
“We really need to do quite a lot of work to up our game,” Mr Evans said. “If we’re going to get this right, this is going to be huge and it’s going to take place over a number of years. We’re not going to be able to fix a systemic set of problems that have developed over 40 years in six months.”
The council has won £3.3million [$4.9M] of funding from Government and the National Lottery to kick-start that work, the meeting heard.
The council’s director of education, Alison Hurley, said a plan to implement the 31 recommendations of the alternative education review would be developed over the next 12 months with children, young people and their carers….
“What we’ve got in our system at the moment is an overrepresentation of children with SEND in our alternative provision because the rest of the system is still very much in that improvement phase.
“Everything interlinks and relates to each other. So it’s that system reform that we’ve talked about which is that key piece here.”
The seriousness and the urgency of the reform was underpinned by the experiences of parents, councillors and children that were shared at the meeting….
“We’re seeing children excluded, and the play book runs a certain way, towards the criminal justice system, and towards exploitation and criminal exploitation.
“It’s schools that need to bend towards children, not children having to bend towards schools.”