July 26, 2021, BristoLive: Bristol mayor promises 450 extra special school places within three years https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/bristol-mayor-promises-450-extra-5698257 SW England
...But many children who desperately need a place will continue to miss out for at least another year
Bristol mayor Marvin Rees has promised to build 450 special school places within the next three years in a bid to tackle a large shortage, according to a new report.
But many children who desperately need a place will continue to miss out for at least another year as the number entitled to specialist education rises.
As of this month, there are 139 children and young people in Bristol who are legally entitled to a special school place but do not have one because there are not enough to go around, the report from Bristol City Council says.
And another 240 children are expected to join the queue once a backlog of requests for a plan entitling them to a special school place is cleared over the next nine months.
Meanwhile, children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) continue to come forward to be assessed for a place.
The city’s failure to provide specialist education for hundreds of children who are legally entitled to it has tragic ramifications for many of them as they grow up.
Most have autism or social, emotional and mental health needs. Without the right support, their behaviour can deteriorate leading to exclusion from school, which is often the start of a journey that ends up in the criminal justice system or with criminal exploitation.
The council’s director of education Alison Hurley presented her report setting out the council’s plan for building all the extra special school places needed now and in future at a public meeting on Monday, July 19.
"The mayor [Marvin Rees] has committed to deliver 450 SEND placements within the next three years," the report says.
The first 69 places will be ready by September this year, and the rest will be delivered by the end of 2024 under the multi-million, two-phase project, the report shows.
Altogether 250 extra special school places are expected to be ready by September 2022, completing the first phase which will be funded by £28million approved by cabinet last year.
The second phase to supply the remaining 200 places has not been costed yet, but the education department will seek the required money from cabinet in October, Ms Hurley told members of the people scrutiny commission.
All the extra places will be made available at existing special schools and mainstream schools, she said.
“We’ll be looking at an extra 250 places over the next academic year with obviously a commitment to 450 over the next three years,” Ms Hurley said.
“If we get enough provision for our young people within their communities, meeting their needs earlier on, then obviously that starts to enable that young person to be more successful with their education.”
In answer to questions from commission members, Ms Hurley said the 139 children who are without a special school place now will get one of the 250 new places built over the 2022/23 academic year.
But the council is dealing with a growing number of requests for an education, health and care plan (EHCP) for children with special education needs, and about 40 per cent of young people with an EHCP require specialist provision, she said.
There are 635 EHCP applications waiting to be decided by the council, according to the council. That means roughly 240 more children will need a special school place once the backlog is cleared, a process that appears likely to take nine months.
Conservative councillor Geoff Gollop said: “What worries me is we’ve got 600 plans outstanding and we’re dealing with them at 200 a quarter. Even if no more came in for the next nine months it would take nine months to get up to date.”
The first phase of the project will see 250 new special school places provided at 11 existing special schools and mainstream schools in Bristol, including Elmfield School for Deaf Children and Claremont Special School.
The plan includes a new 50-place emergency special needs school due to open in September at the Venturers Academy at its former site at Gay Elms.
Asked by commission chair Cllr Tim Kent how much of the £28million [$39M] in approved funding for the first phase of the project was “assured”, Ms Hurley said there was “still a shortfall with the Claremont project” but that £3.42million [$4.7M] was being spent on smaller building works at various other schools in the city.