As Bristol City Council quietly reverse their decision to stop accepting applications for Education Health Care plans, Jacqui Jensen, the Executive Director of Adults, Children and Education, has changed her Twitter handle from @jacqui_jensen to @GoneTime6 (Gone Fishing). Parents who applied after November 26 have been asked to do so again.
In a letter of explanation seen by Ephemeral Digest, officers say in clarification: “Thank you for bringing my attention to the issue of the inappropriate notification when an ECHP request is submitted. You are correct that this response is not in line with the SEND Code of Practice and therefore this process has been immediately stopped.
“I can assure you that a full investigation is now underway, to determine how this happened and to ensure that there are no further breaches of statutory guidelines.
I am informed that the motivation behind this action was to try and avoid further parental disappointment, regarding the timeliness of the EHCP process. The service had been in communication with schools, to highlight the impact the Christmas holidays will have on processing times, however this additional approach is unacceptable and I apologise for any distress caused.
The team are in the process of contacting all individuals who attempted to submit a request, to apologise and request that they re-send the form. The initial six week process will be started from the date of the original upload and not the re-submission date.
I am sure you will have a sense of the enormous pressure this team are under, as they try to tackle the backlog and deal with the increasing requests. We are taking a number of steps to increase capacity and improve the systems and process, in order to significantly improve our current performance. Unfortunately, the impact of these improvements will not be immediate, but I am confident we can create an effective system that delivers for our families.
Up until 6 December, the following message had been posted on the council’s website :
The SEND Assessment, Planning and Review Team are busy dealing with requests for EHC Needs Assessments.
So that we meet the six week statutory deadline, we can process requests that we get by 26 November 2019.
We’ll start accepting new requests from 6 January 2020.
The relevant legislation, the Children and Families Act 2014, makes it a “requirement that such applications be considered, the legal test applied, responded to within six weeks and a right of appeal be given” as pointed out by Liberal Democrat councillor Tim Kent on Twitter.
As reported by Chopsybaby.com, a carer wishing to remain anonymous received an email on 05 December which included the threat that requests would be deleted:
“Therefore if you are considering sending a request for an EHC Needs Assessment after 26th November 2019, we ask that this request is sent to SEN@bristol.gov.uk from the 6th January 2020.”
While the council were unlawfully deleting and refusing to accept applications for EHCPs, Mayor Rees published a blog post praising and expressing his support for his Cabinet member for education. In addition to this, in people scrutiny, councillors had the previous week discovered that the official SEND figures previously provided about the service were misleading and inaccurate.
While official figures claimed that 169 EHC plans were produced in the quarter of April to June 2019 — with only four completed on time — the real figure was 36 EHCPs and none on time. The official figures had in fact been a rolling total from a 12-month period.
As reported by Bristol24/7, Councillor Tim Kent said: “I feel that the commission and parents have been intentionally misled. Where we had looked at these figures at the previous [people scrutiny] meeting, no attempt was made to clarify that the 169 figure was an annual one rather than over three months as presented.
“It is very clear that senior officers and councillors either did not understand key performance figures themselves or failed to inform the committee, the media and the public that their presentation was incorrect.
“Senior officers and the cabinet are aware of this yet despite this it continues to happen.”
A council spokesperson said: “What is important is the work we are doing to improve the current provision for children with special educational needs which we know currently falls way below the mark.
“The wider context of funding cuts and an increase in the amount of children needing SEND services means this transformation cannot happen overnight, however recruitment is underway to bring the EHCP targets up to standard and give children and families the service they deserve.”
Later in the day on December 6, 2019, and before reversing the decision altogether, the Council updated their notice, in seeming response to social media requests to confirm they were not denying applications:
Timescales for EHC Needs Assessments requests
The SEND Assessment, Planning and Review Team will process all requests for EHC Needs Assessments received between 26 November 2019 and 5 January 2020 from 6 January 2020. We’ll keep requests received between these dates on our secure email system until we process them.
To defend his Cabinet member for education and other cabinet members, the mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees also seems to have released details of the recent Ofsted report whose publication was blocked by the pre-election period. Rees wrote that “there is no question over [Cabinet member for education] Anna [Keen]’s performance. In fact, even on the challenge of SEND, the recent inspection said that while Bristol was not where it should be (a consequence of both local and national failures that have been building for many years), it is since Anna became the lead that the green shoots of recovery began to appear“. (Emphasis added)
All messages indicating a refusal to accept or deal with EHC plan applications have now been removed from the council website.
Jacqui Jensen has been contacted for comment. According to council reports, the Executive Director of Adults Children and Education has a salary of £145,685.46, is in charge of a budget of £351,721,000.00 — the largest budget responsibility of all executive directors — and is responsible for 2,241 employees.