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(UK) Bristol: "Damning review" on SPED; 200 special school places needed

June 15, 2021, Bristol Live: Failings in Bristol's alternative learning system found in damning independent review

SW England An independent review has highlighted a catalogue of failings in the education of children who struggle in mainstream schools in Bristol. The damning review of alternative learning provision found these types of settings are being used inappropriately as a holding ground for children with special needs to make up for a shortage of more than 200 special school places in the city. Alternative learning provision is education outside of school for children who are permanently excluded, at risk of exclusion, or cannot attend mainstream or special schools because of health, emotional or behavioural reasons. Crucially, alternative learning providers are not staffed and often not trained to offer the specialist support required by children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND), the review said. The report talks of “poor” placement decisions at alternative learning schools, with “extremely” high numbers of children with SEND attending, many with additional needs, particularly social, emotional and mental health. “It is normal to have a certain amount of SEND pupils within the ALP [alternative learning provision] but not to see the numbers at this high percentage," the report says, citing a figure of 70 per cent…. “Some ALP providers are at risk of turning into special schools but are not registered as such.” The report, commissioned by Bristol City Council and dated October-November 2020, makes 31 recommendations which have all been accepted by the local authority…. The reviewer notes that mainstream schools say funding and accountability pressures are making it more difficult for them to provide adequate SEND support. An estimated 70 per cent of children in alternative learning facilities in Bristol are legally entitled to specialist support for SEND under an education, health and care plan or they are in the process of being assessed for such a plan, according to the report. Providers say they see high numbers of children with speech and language problems, along with dyslexia and dyspraxia and potentially other undiagnosed issues…. One relates to the creation of a pathway for pupils with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs, which was recommended by a review in 2016 but “appears to have been only partially created”…. The council’s director of education, Alison Hurley, said she welcomed the “clarity” provided by the report at a meeting of school leaders on June 8. She told the Bristol Schools Forum of headteachers and governors that the draft action plan to address the concerns raised was “very much a work in progress” and would be developed more fully over the coming year as feedback is gathered from young people and parents. Asked how long it would take before children with SEND are assessed for specialist support in mainstream schools and sent to special schools rather than alternative learning centres, Ms Hurley said there was “no definitive date” yet. It will take two years to build all the new special school places required to address the shortage of them in Bristol, she said. “I would certainly be looking over the next year to two years to start looking at really seeing the impact of that on those placements in alternative learning,” she said. The council is working its way through a £28.7 million [$40.1M U.S.] plan to create more special school places, including major redevelopments at two schools and extra special school places at a number of mainstream schools across the city.

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