'Drastic change' call over Bristol special needs education

Fiona Castle reading statement
Image caption Fiona Castle said she had spent £3,000 on private assessments, resources for her son to use at school and a SEND tribunal

Families of children and young people with special educational needs have met with council bosses who have been criticised for failing them.

An Ofsted/Care Quality Commission (CQC) report, published in December, said Bristol City Council's performance was "disturbingly poor".

Councillor Eleanor Combley said: "We have let you down but you have not let your children down."

Parent Fiona Castle said "drastic change was desperately needed".

The council invited the public to ask questions and submit statements, which will be used to "inform the Written Statement of Action required by the recent Ofsted/CQC inspection of SEND in the local area".

Chairing the meeting, councillor Claire Hiscott said it was the first opportunity to discuss this "serious and emotional matter".

Image caption (L-R) Parents Fiona Castle, Sally Kent, Jen Smith and Sara Stocks questioned councillors

Fiona Castle, who has an eight-year-old son with autism, said she had recently secured a "meaningful and specific EHCP [Education, Health and Care Plan]".

But in her statement to the council, she said: "This battle has pervaded every aspect of my life for the last 16 months.

"My son and hundreds of children like him face an uncertain and unsupported future in Bristol.

"I currently have no faith in Bristol City Council to lawfully and ethically provide my son with the support he needs to develop and lead a full life in future."

Image caption Kathryn Mason said she hoped the meeting would "help to improve the process and outcomes for our children and young people"

Kathryn Mason, from charity Supportive Parents, cares for a young adult with special needs.

She said she did not think the Ofsted/CQC report "contained any surprises".

When asked about the council's invitation to parents to contribute to their feedback, she said: "I think if it helps the council to take ownership of its statutory responsibility, then that will be a good thing."

Image caption Nura Aabe said BAME families with special needs children "continue to be excluded"

Nura Aabe, who successfully took the council to a tribunal after her son was not given the college of his choice, said the meeting did not represent all of Bristol's communities.

"We talk about representation but we continue to exclude the most vulnerable - the black, disabled community," she said.

"I'm the only black woman, with regard to SEND here."

The council's director for education of skills, Alison Hurley, said: "With our Written Statement of Action and SEND Improvement Plan, we have a real opportunity to transform SEND services in Bristol with the voices of parents, carers and young people informing this process from the very beginning."

Image caption Alison Hurley (centre) said they had "doubled the size of the team"

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