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(UK) Bristol: Council reduces "waiting times for neurodiversity diagnosis" after damning report

Nov 23, 2022, Bristol Post: Bristol City Council 'making sufficient progress' on SEND children but still failing parents

SW England

Bristol’s education department has been referred to the Government for ‘further action’ after an Ofsted inspector found it had failed to patch up the ‘fractured relationship’ with the parents of children with special educational needs.

That was the last of five ‘significant weaknesses’ in the way Bristol City Council handled and supported children with special needs and disabilities which were uncovered at City Hall when Ofsted inspectors visited in 2019. And although a re-inspection last month found that four of the other ‘significant weaknesses’ were now being addressed, the final one is still such an issue - with the SEND parents spying scandal over the last couple of months making it worse - that the Ofsted inspector has referred the council to the Department for Education and the NHS to consider what next steps - if any - might be taken against Bristol City Council.

The inspectors’ report found that the council had made ‘sufficient progress’ in addressing four significant weaknesses that were found in 2019. The first was that there was a ‘lack of accountability of leaders at all levels, including school leaders’ The Ofsted inspector Phil Minns found that leaders in Bristol have made ‘considerable progress since the last inspection’. “Leaders share a commitment to improving the support for children and young people with SEND in the area,” he wrote. “This is leading to a positive culture among professionals and more collaboration between partners.”

“Leaders know that some children and young people with SEND still do not get the support they need quickly enough. However, leaders have ensured that improving the support available for children and young people with SEND is a key feature of the major improvement programmes in health, care and education services.” The second area that the 2019 inspection found was a significant weakness, was around ‘inconsistencies in timelines and effectiveness’ of identifying, assessing and putting in place plans for children with SEND. The backlog of cases stretched into the hundreds and there are still scores of children with special needs in Bristol who the council is failing to put in place a plan for within the legal time limits.

The Ofsted inspector said the council has made ‘sufficient progress in addressing this significant weakness’, and although things are improving, parents and carers ‘remain worried that many schools do not give children and young people with SEND the support they need. “However there has been a cultural shift in the way that professionals and schools work together,” he said.

“Leaders are taking steps to reduce the waiting times for neurodiversity diagnosis and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) assessments.”

The third significant weakness highlighted in the 2019 inspection was that inspectors found a ‘dysfunctional EHC plan process and inadequate quality of EHC plans. The inspector said that sufficient progress was being made. “Professionals report an improvement in joint working when completing plans. They now feel more accountable for the quality and timeliness of their contribution to EHC plans. Although weaknesses remain, this work is resulting in children and young people being placed at the centre of the EHC assessment process,” the inspector added.

The fourth significant weakness found in 2019 was around the underachievement of children with SEND and the fact that so many children with special needs were not even in school…. The fifth and final significant weakness is not being sorted by Bristol City Council and its leadership. The 2019 inspection found that there were ‘fractured relationships with parents and carers, lack of co-production and variable engagement and collaboration’…. The inspector said parents still didn’t trust the council. “Parents and carers have a more mixed view of the quality of support available to children and young people with SEND than at the time of the last inspection,” he said. “Some parents and carers continue to lack trust in the system and feel that leaders are not acting in the best interests of their children. However, the majority of parents and carers accessing services and support more recently are positive about their experience. “Plans are in place to re-establish a formal body to represent parents and carers. Until this is in place, parent and carer representatives and area leaders must ensure that co-production with parents and carers is maintained,” he added.

The result is that, while four of the five areas of significant weakness are seeing ‘sufficient’ improvement, the fifth one means the future of Bristol’s SEND education services now rests with ministers. …


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