The Director of Education and Skills introduced the report.
· There was a discussion about the funding of Alternative Learning Provision (ALP) and the Commission was advised that there were different funding routes for alternative provision - commissioned directly from the local authority, and schools and settings could directly request provision and support (in-reach support or an out-sourced placement into one of the alternative learning providers).
· Members were told that, particularly for those who had Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP), those resources and finances were captured within the individual child’s resources plan, so the funding was known.
· It was noted that, with regard to the High Needs Block funding and the funding pressures associated with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND), there was ongoing work in relation to the Dedicated Schools Grant Management Plan which pulled together the system-wide financial piece; that it was important to understand how best value was secured.
· Members heard that the Alternative Learning Provision Review report made it clear that there were significant weaknesses in terms of value for money, and the Commission was advised that the 32 recommendation action plan in place would address this and would start to bring financial parity.
· Members heard that there was, at the moment, an over-representation of children with special educational needs and disabilities in the alternative provision because the rest of the system was still in the improvement phase.
· There was a discussion about how needs were identified, and Members heard that, in terms of early identification of support for special educational needs, there was a school level provision (Ordinary Level Provision), which attracted a notional amount of funding so needs of young people at school-based level could be met without statutory assessment or specialist provision; but it was understood that for some children and young people there was a need for something enhanced and that was where the formal identification and the support process which led to an Education Health and Care Plan came in.
· The Commission was told that the statutory process was not needed to access alternative provision, which was for a short period of time for specific reasons, and this would be done in conjunction with the school and alternative learning provider with the understanding that the young person would be able to return to the mainstream setting.
· Members were advised that system reform was the key piece of work, all interventions had to take into account the complexity of the wider system, in which all aspects had an influence and effect on each other.
· The Head of Inclusive City and Virtual School Headteacher referred the Commission to the draft ALP commissioning strategy which talked about use of ALP for early intervention for those children who had short term need; not to be used as an alternative to SEND support.
· There was a discussion around joint working and the Head of Inclusive City and Virtual School Headteacher advised members that there had been a move away from silo working, with a focus on working across services including social care to address issues such as attendance and safeguarding.
· There was a discussion around fixed term exclusions, and it was noted that exclusion as a sanction would have a negative impact for a young person; and was not a strategy that would support behavioural change. Members were advised that the Relationships and Belonging guidance encouraged schools to see behaviour as communication, and that schools which used particular policies such as Ready to Learn should do so with reference to their own evidence base and whether the particular policy had worked.
· Members heard that there were a number of approaches used across the city, and although the local authority did not have a mandate to prescribe an approach, part of this work would be to identify and share best practice.
· The Cabinet Member for Families, Education and Women (Lead member for Children's Services) welcomed the report and raised items of concern which included value for money, the correlation between alternative learning provision, children with SEND, and children who were known to social care; that the cross-over was something to address and required holistic interventions to enable better outcomes. The Cabinet Member stated that the co-production work with academy schools was important with reference to how behaviours were approached; that life chances for children who had been excluded were restricted; there was a disproportionate number of Black, Asian and minority Ethnic children affected by exclusion; and that the conversations around inclusion and belonging would need to be within a societal context as well as the health, care and education systems in Bristol.
· The Commission was advised that one of the recommendations was to ensure that there were robust pathways into early identification and support; and that there were children in the system classified as ‘unmet need’ (lack of a resource at a particular time, or may have included undiagnosed children).
· Members were advised that the Council had reviewed the Bristol Inclusion Panel and the steps taken for a child to come to the Panel, which would ensure the school had done everything it was required to do to support the young person; this had provided learning shared with schools which were committed to ensure alternative learning provision was not overused.
· Members noted that the issues raised, which included lack of appropriate provision, had been around for many years, and so welcomed the reports and the fact there was now a joined-up approach to address issues.