Bristol's special needs education plan failure 'shocking'

Image of a teacher with a young boy Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Bristol City Council were not able to complete any SEND applications from April to September 2019

A failure to provide prompt education plans for children with special needs or disabilities has been described as "shocking and appalling".

Legally, a child needing a SEND plan should be issued one within 20 weeks but Bristol City Council failed to do this during the second quarter of 2019.

Figures indicate that the deadline was missed in 98% of cases.

The council blamed a lack of resources and staffing issues, but campaigners have branded it a "crisis".

Sally Kent, from Bristol Independent SEND Group, said "vulnerable families and children" were being left with "no access to services" in what she called a "national crisis".

"Families are on anti-depressants because it's not just the children, but also the families that are going through hell, with no access to services," she said.

"The council are treading water whilst children are suffering."

The group wrote an open letter to the council and mayor Marvin Rees in October calling for improvements.

Image copyright Sally Kent
Image caption The Bristol Independent Send group has received cases from more than 800 different families who have ongoing applications

In a progress review, the council said it was looking to take money from the early years school budget to plug the gap for SEND services.

The review also explains the failings are due to a lack of resources and staffing shortages.

Alison Hurley, the council's director of skills, said: "We have invested £1.4m in SEND and recently advertised 24 new posts for specialised staff.

"I recognise that this is of little comfort for the families waiting for a review or decision who need to see the results of this investment.

"I share their ambition of improving the system and am confident that this extra money will have a positive impact but it will take time to take effect."

Image copyright Fiona Castle
Image caption Fiona Castle said the SEND system in Bristol was "run by people who don't care"

Fiona Castle, 43, tried to access services a year ago for her eight-year-old son Sam who has autism.

But she said the "process is still ongoing" and has so far cost her "over £2,000" in private assessments.

"I've had a nervous breakdown fighting the system for my son to get help and it's heartbreaking, because nowhere seems as bad as Bristol," she said.

Ofsted and the CQC are conducting a review on the council's SEND service and the findings will be released after the general election.

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