Follow the action!

For all (well, most) of the action as it happens, follow me on Facebook and Twitter!

Monday, 3 December 2007

Special Educational Needs revolution...

On Thursday the cabinet will debate the reorganisation of special educational needs provision in Bristol. Reorganisation of Bristol's SEN provision is long over due. Parents of children with SEN in Bristol have one of the highest appeal rates against the local authority's placement of their child in the country.

Some of you may remember that I organised a petition to stop cuts in special schools, back in January '07. (Note to the ever-imaginative Bristol Blogger : comedy pictures of us campaigning in the rain, which has caption-competition potential, SOMEWHERE on this blog!)

The petition was successful and we got over 700 signatures. Now the council claims that the reorganisations will not amount to cuts in special school places, even though they are closing down the smart, and newly refurbished Kingsdon Manor school, a residential school for children with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. ( BESD.)

The Council, in short, says that there are too many residential BESD places in Bristol, and not enough day places, especially in the North of the city. Their solution? To close down Kingsdon Manor, which, they say, is operating with lots of surplus places, decant the pupils who need residential BESD into nearby Notton House, which provides for the same group, and pump the money into Florence Brown School, which ( are you still following?) will be re designated for pupils with BESD. That's the short version. For the long version, have a look at the council papers going to cabinet on Thursday.

On the face of it, these seem like very reasonable plans. My concerns are that despite council reassurances, these will in fact amount to cuts.

And there are real grounds for concern. Under this Government there has been a push to close down special schools and to stop giving children with SEN statements. We have lost around 9000 special school places nationally since Labour came into power in 1997, and the number of children even being given an assessment for a statement of SEN has plummeted by a third.

A child cannot get into a special school without a statement, and most importantly, statements provide a vital legal safeguard to the kind of care they are entitled to at school. In Bristol, the number of children for whom the authority has maintained a statement has dropped since 1997 by around 28%. The total number of children with statements in Bristol has fallen by over 20% in five years.

So when council cabinet looks at these plans, I have urged them to:

- Ensure that reorganisation of special school places does not mean cuts

- Ensure that reduced statementing is not used as a way to strangulate a special school to the point of closure.

- Ensure that we keep flexibility for future requirements for SEN and that Bristol City Council does not permanently jettison sites and resources (like the superb and recently re-furbished Kingsdon Manor site) it will later need.

- Protects those involved: to ensure that any reorganisation is not rushed through, and that all children involved have sufficient time to be reassessed and given appropriate new placements if new placements are decided upon.

I will keep you posted on progress....

No comments: