SEND Sensory Support Service Consultation

The Sensory Support Service provides support to children and young people (CYP) with sensory needs in education and family settings. Sensory needs include hearing impairment (HI), visual impairment (VI) and multi-sensory impairment (MSI). The Sensory Support Service is part of the South West’s Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) service provision.
Bristol City Council is responsible for the management of the Sensory Support Service across the four joint local authority areas: Bristol, North Somerset, Bath and North East Somerset (BANES) and South Gloucestershire.

As the lead authority, Bristol City Council’s ambitions for CYP with SEND are set out in the One City Plan and Corporate Strategy and help to inform the proposals set out in this consultation. These ambitions include improving the support available to CYP with SEND and their families, and reducing the attainment gap between CYP with SEND and CYP without SEND. The proposals have also been developed around the joint authorities’ vision and values for CYP with sensory impairments, which are set out below.
The proposals in this consultation have also been informed by service user feedback. This feedback was gathered through a review of the service undertaken by the National Sensory Impairment Partnership in 2016, through service user and stakeholder surveys, including annual service user surveys, and engagement events with stakeholders that took place between March and August in 2018.
Vision and values

At the heart of the Sensory Support Service’s strategy and proposals is the joint authorities’ vision and values for CYP who have sensory impairments. The service’s vision and values have been developed through engagement work undertaken with CYP, families and practitioners across the local area. Please click here to see the joint authorities’ visions and values for CYP with SEND.

Service user and stakeholder engagement

Parent carers and CYP have told us that they would welcome changes to the way that this service is currently delivered so that it may have a greater impact on the long term outcomes for CYP with sensory impairments. This service user feedback was gathered through:
  • A review undertaken in 2016 by the National Sensory Impairment Partnership.
  • Stakeholder and service user engagement and co-production carried out in 2018, such as the Investing in our High Needs Children and Young People survey.
  • A wide ranging review of SEND and High Needs Provision in 2019 that aimed to plan improvements to the service for CYP with sensory impairments.
  • Focused discussions we have had over the past twelve months with sensory impairment experts and professionals working in this field.

A summary of the feedback gathered through these engagement activities, and how the current proposals address the issues raised, can be found here.

Collaborative working with the Joint Operations Group

The proposals have also been informed by the Sensory Support Service Joint Operations Group (JOG), which comprises of parent carer representatives for different sensory impairment need types and age groups, joint authority officers and voluntary sector partners including SENSE, RNIB and NDCS and. A full list of service criteria and outcomes is available here.

The JOG explored other options for the proposed changes to the Sensory Support Service, such as having a virtual school model or increasing the size of the service in order to meet changes in demand. However, the virtual school idea was not taken forward because all partners agreed that the service should be subject to the same performance management and scrutiny by the joint authorities as other LA services and teams are, which would not be the case for a virtual school. Increasing the size of the service was not a financially viable option because budgets are already set and committed in the four authorities.

Other factors that inform the proposals

There have been and continue to be significant changes in the education of CYP with sensory impairments.  These include:
  • Earlier diagnosis
  • Advances in medical technology
  • Increasing numbers of CYP with SEND in mainstream education and
  • Fewer young people and adults with sensory impairments entering employment 
You can find out more about these other factors which influence the proposals here.

We need to continually evaluate and improve our services in the light of these changes so that CYP  with sensory impairment have the opportunity to develop their full potential.
The proposals

This consultation sets out proposals to redesign Sensory Support Service provision. Please see below a brief summary of these proposals:
  • Proposal 1: To extend the Sensory Support Service to help CYP from birth to 25 years. At present, further and independent education settings can only access information, advice and guidance on supporting CYP (older than 16) with sensory impairment by paying for them. The council proposes to extend the remit of the Sensory Support Service to include all CYP with sensory impairments up to and including the age of 25.
  • Proposal 2: To replace 30% of early years one to one family learning sessions with group family learning sessions for all age groups. Family learning sessions are provided to CYP and their families to help develop skills in areas such as communication, mobility, independent living, recreation and leisure.  At present, family learning sessions are only available for early years children and their families and in one to one sessions for all other CYP. The council proposes to replace some of these sessions with group sessions and facilitating peer to peer support, which would be available to early years, school age and post 16 CYP and their families.
  • Proposal 3: To implement a joint local authority funded workforce development programme as part of the core service offer. This would be available for early years, school age and post 16 education settings, and would include independent education settings. The training would be led by the Sensory Support Service and would provide group meetings and training for key staff in the four joint authority areas, where appropriate. 
  • Proposal 4: To use more ways of providing information to CYP and their families 50 weeks per year. At present, CYP and their families have access to information and advice through the SEND Local Offer websites (see links below) and through their allocated specialist teacher. The council proposes to use a wider range of ways to provide information, such as the introduction of an email hotline, telephone and video conferencing and improved, accessible Local Offer information. A Local Offer sets out in one place information about the provision that local authorities expect to be available across education, health and social care for CYP with SEND in their area. You can view each of the joint authorities’ Local Offer websites by clicking the links below.
  • Proposal 5: To commission a new contract with Guide Dogs for the Blind for the provision of the habilitation service. The habilitation service provides training to CYP with sensory impairment. Habilitation training involves developing personal mobility, navigation and independent living skills. The four joint authorities propose to commission the charity Guide Dogs for the Blind to provide this service throughout all four joint authority areas.
Local Offer websites In this survey we describe each proposal for this service in more detail and ask you to provide your views on what we are proposing.