The Director of Education & Skills, and Gerry Bates, Head of Children’s Service, Sirona Care and Health, introduced the report.
· The Chair asked about the timescales for a referral for someone with an EHCP to a paediatric assessment, and Members were advised that timeliness for EHCP assessment health contributions was 87% in 6 weeks returned to all services; and that the new ‘Specialist Health Advisors for SEND’ service enabled needs assessments for those children previously unknown to a community health services.
· The Chair asked about timescales of EHCPs and the level of the backlog, and the Director of Education & Skills advised that an ethical approach was taken, approved by the Department for Education, which prioritised a proportion of new cases, which enabled service improvement and responded to highest need, whilst ensuring legacy cases were responded to. Members heard the council was currently working on 60% legacy and 40% new cases. There was a triage system which provided for a fair focus on prioritised cases.
· The Head of Accessible City advised the Commission that the number of live cases in the system was around 500, and that the Department for Education had undertaken surveys about the impact of COVID-19 on SEND and educational psychologist services, and there had been approximately 20% reduction nationally in the way SEND and educational psychology teams had been able to operate. The Chair noted concern about the figure of 500, that this was similar to three years ago.
· There was a query whether there was a difference between timescales of assessing children and adults, and Members were advised that there was not data available for this, as the focus was on children and young people up to the age of 25; that the Special Needs Code of Practice spanned from 0-25 year olds.
· There was a discussion about school places, and the Director of Education & Skills advised, in terms of the Specialist Provision Project which aimed to deliver 450 places in the next two years, phase 1 was opened at the start of lockdown which meant delays; and these had now started to be delivered. There were 287 places to be confirmed shortly, which included those delivered as part of phase 2; 163 places would need to be delivered as part of phase 2 which was ongoing. There would be 450 places across the city by April 2023.
· Members asked about the reference to data, performance management and planning in the report and were advised that accountability of leaders was a standing agenda item on the Excellence in Schools Board which looked at performance and gap analysis data, attendance and exclusion data.
· The Commission was advised that there had been nearly 30 OFSTED inspections across education settings since the onset of COVID-19.
· Members were advised that there was now funding available for support for school holidays; the Holiday Activity Fund, secured for 3 years, enabled the council to work with partners to increase accessible provision for children and young people, particularly those eligible for free school meals.
· There was a discussion around Theme 6, Transition to Adulthood, and Members were advised that there was work to do for the post 16 offer, particularly the support for young people with their transition into adulthood and into positive destinations which included paid employment; enabled by programmes delivered by the skills team such as ‘We Work for Everyone.’
· It was noted by Members that there were groups city-wide not funded that also enabled this type of provision.
· Members noted the amount of work and funding into school holiday provision.
· There was a discussion about the mental health support teams in schools, and the Commission was advised that there was additional funding identified which would expand the number of teams.
· The Head of Children’s Service, Sirona Care and Health, advised the Commission that there was not a clear understanding why demand for autism assessment had increased nationally, although research showed there was a broader understanding of children with autism with better recognition, particularly of girls. Also, the criteria for the diagnostic tool had been broadened. Anecdotally, there was a better acceptance of neuro diversity and an awareness and understanding of challenges young people with social communication difficulties or autism face; this meant more people were picked up and much earlier.
· Members were told that there had been an additional £500K funding from the General Fund, the majority of the transformation funding came from top slice of the High Needs block; and there was also additional COVID-19 funding.
· The Chair welcomed the plan to deliver 450 additional places in special schools within 3 years and it was confirmed the deadline would be July 24 for September 24.
· There was a question about co-production with parents and Members were told that co-production and participation were built into the way policy and practice was developed; stakeholders and families had been engaged in improvement pieces of work; and the Engagement and Participation Co-ordinator had ensured an understanding of all the parent carer groups in Bristol, and regular meetings were held with them.
· The report be noted.
· The Commission receive further detail of how the triage system works for prioritising cases for EHCP assessments.
· The Commission be provided with details of the partnership groups/boards referred to in ‘Governance’ paragraph of the report (2a. Context – Summary of Progress), and the Excellence in Schools Board, including membership and terms of reference.
· The age limit for eligibility of school holiday provision be confirmed.
· The Commission receive a breakdown of funding, including what was from the General Fund, DSG, and COVID related funding.
· The Commission be provided with detail about the Mental Health teams in schools, including how many teams and schools involved.
· People Scrutiny Commission consider this item for the scrutiny work programme 22-23.