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Fix Relationship With SEND Parents, Bristol City Council Told

January 20, 2023

A council must fix its “fractured relationship” with the parents of special educational needs (SEND) children, the government has said.

Bristol City Council was referred to Whitehall last year after failing to reverse years of mistrust, a situation exacerbated by the SEND spying scandal.

One campaigner said there are hundreds of unhappy parent carers in Bristol.

The council said it is now planning to re-establish a “formal body to represent parents and carers”.

It has been ordered to complete an “accelerated progress plan”, which needs to be submitted to the Department for Education (DfE) by 1 February, explaining how it intends to improve its relationship with parents and carers.

In a statement to Bristol’s health and wellbeing board on Thursday, SEND parent and campaigner Jen Smith said “the number of unhappy parent carers in Bristol runs into the hundreds”.

She said the council had “made it abundantly clear throughout 2022 that it does not wish to engage in co-production”.

She accused the council of “tokenistic box ticking” and added: “The relationship with parent carers is fractured due to the way the council continues to behave.”

Last year, leaked documents showed that council staff monitored the social media posts of SEND parents who were critical of the service’s poor quality.

It later emerged the authority had also blocked DfE funding to Bristol Parent Carer Forum, the charity that had been liaising with it on improving SEND provision, and whose members were subject to the surveillance. The council insisted the two issues were unrelated.

Improvement in four areas

Ofsted and the CQC revisited the city in October to check progress in five areas of “significant weakness” identified by the original inspection in 2019, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service

A report published in November found sufficient improvements had been made in four of the areas – including lack of accountability of leaders at all levels, inconsistent timeliness and effectiveness in assessing SEND pupils, inadequate EHCPs, and high levels of underachievement, absenteeism and exclusions.

But the fifth – “the fractured relationships with parents and carers” – had not been sorted.

Inspectors said this “continues to affect the quality of co-production that takes place between area leaders and parents and carers” and added it would be referring the council to the DfE for “further action”.

City council interim director of education and skills, Richard Hanks, told the board that although inspectors found a “more mixed view” from parents on the quality of support to youngsters than before, “it is not where it needed to be by this point”.

Ofsted’s report said some parents “continue to lack trust in the system and feel that leaders are not acting in the best interests of children”.

But the inspectors said the majority of those accessing services more recently had a positive experience – a conclusion disputed by SEND campaigners.

Mr Hanks said the council acknowledged “that not all young people with SEND get the support they need as quickly as they could”, something they “need to continue to work on”.

He said while they can make changes to the systems and processes in schools and settings, it would take time for it to “lead to a positive experience for all parents”.

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