The following officers were in attendance for this item:
- Barbara Peacock, Executive Director (People)
- David Butler, Head of School Standards, Commissioning and Learning Access
- Tony Murphy, Head of Learning Access
- Shelley Davies, Strategic Manager of School improvement
- Richard Simpson, Executive Director of Resources (S151 Officer)
- Lisa Taylor, Director Finance, Investment and Risk, (Deputy Section 151 Officer)
- Jenny Duxbury, Head of School Place Planning and Admissions
Cllr Alisa Flemming gave a Powerpoint presentation on her portfolio. She highlighted the vision for the portfolio, which is as follows:
"Our children and young people will be safe, healthy, enjoy learning and achieve highly, enabling them to positively shape their own lives and to make a positive contribution.
Our children and families will experience us as walking alongside them with compassion and understanding, to help them grow in resilience and independence."
Cllr Flemming then outlined the key achievements of the past year:
- The OFSTED inspection of Croydon's adult education service (CALAT), which led to a "good" grade, narrowly missing an "outstanding" grade
- The Joint Targeted Area Inspection, which had included a deep dive on Children Sexual Exploitation and had concluded that no child was at immediate risk of this in Croydon
- The effectiveness of the borough's services for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children
- Croydon's sharing of good practice on missing children with other boroughs
- Significant improvements in educational outcomes for early years, putting Croydon above the national average
- The borough's school building programme, leading to an additional 1580 primary school places and 150 secondary school places in the last year
- The expansion of St Nicholas school for children with Special Educational Needs, initially by 1FE, changed to 2FE in response to demand
Members heard that online applications for school places had been very high in number and that over 90% of applicants had obtained a place in their 1st to 3rd favourite schools.
The Cabinet Member expressed her thanks to those officers who had been involved in the very hard work to bring children to the UK from the asylum seeker camps in Calais.
Cllr Flemming outlined the top priorities within her portfolio:
- Recruitment and retention in the children's social care division
- The implementation of the action plan arising from the Joint Targeted Area Inspection
- School place planning
- Improving pupils' English and maths results at a faster pace
- Creating a new targeted youth offer (e.g. leisure activities) for the most vulnerable young people in the borough. This would include mentoring young people to help improve their educational outcomes and ambitious for the future
- The planned "Youth Take-Over" of the Croydon Congress in 2017 to enable young people to have their say and share their needs and views
- Holding a youth festival in 2017 and working with Cllr Timothy Godfrey, Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Sport, on preparations
Cllr Flemming outlined the pressures faced in her portfolio. They include the following:
- A rising number of children in need
- The high cost of safeguarding conference and court referrals
- The challenge of finding placements for looked after children within the borough
- Forthcoming cuts in funding for schools resulting from the new National Funding Formula to be introduced in 2018/2019
Members stated that councils must be "laboratories of bold innovation" and congratulated the Cabinet Member for the creation of Youth Hubs providing positive out of school activities for vulnerable children in the borough.
Members discussed nursery school provision. Officers explained that each child was entitled to 15 hours of free nursery school provision, expected to rise to 30 hours per week. It is not yet known what percentage will be provided by the council and what ratio will be available through private nursery schools.
Following the November 2016 Schools Forum meeting, at which it was agreed to fund the Early Years block for 3-4 year olds at an hourly rate of £3.99, consultation had taken place, leading to the conclusion by providers that this rate would not be sufficient to cover the cost of early years education. The schools forum has consequently agreed to raise the amount to £4.30 in January 2017. The 2 year old hourly rate of £5.66 was also agreed at the schools forum.
The Cabinet Member was questioned on the staffing and retention of children's social care staff. She gave the sub-committee assurances that the council had a committed and well trained work force. She explained that she had attended many focus groups towards the end of the last year to gain a better understanding of issues facing social workers employed by the council in order to improve retention and stated that the department was taking steps to increase the number of in-house social workers. These needed to included baselining the pay scales of social workers to ensure the retention of more experienced staff.
The Executive Director (People) announced that 29 newly qualified social workers had been recruited in 2016. They had been given a protected caseload and time for learning and reflection to ensure they had the opportunity to gain knowledge as well as experience. She added that there had been a good retention of 2015 recruits.
Officers explained that each social worker team was headed by a senior manager who signed off all cases, and included two or three newly qualified officers, who received practice supervision on a weekly basis.
The Cabinet Member highlighted the role of support workers who supplemented the work of qualified social workers and provided good value for money. For instance, workers in the Functional Family Therapy team provide support to vulnerable families in a holistic way to help them function better and avoid crisis points.
The Cabinet Member and the Executive Director offered to bring a paper to a future meeting of the Scrutiny Sub-Committee on the recruitment and retention of staff in children's social care.
The Cabinet member was questioned regarding the recruitment of agency teachers who may not have any qualifications. Officers acknowledged that they had heard of this practice, although they did not collect such data on teachers. Officers added that teaching agencies had changed and now recruited teachers directly from teacher training colleges and then advertised to schools. The Croydon Head Teachers' association had worked with such agencies at their recent staff recruitment fair. Officers explained that agency teachers were usually costlier to employ in view of agency fees, but that they had a role to play, particularly when some posts were found to be difficult to recruit to.
Members asked how officers planned for population swings in the borough. Officers explained that the monitoring of birth rates was key, and that a place planning report was presented to Cabinet on a yearly basis. Additional information on projections is published twice a year. Officers also work to calculate the likely "child yield" for each new housing development. They work very closely with the Place department to develop long-term population projections and identify suitable sites for future schools. Every effort is made to offer school places as close to children's homes as possible although suitable sites are becoming increasingly difficult to find.
Members turned their attention to the forward planning of school places for children with Special Educational Needs (SEN). The Cabinet Member acknowledged that more places were needed in Croydon, both at primary and secondary levels, and that the limited numbers of such places forced some children with SEN to travel a very long way to their school. She added that more work needed to be done to enable children with SEN to be educated in mainstream schools, and that a pilot was planned to develop effective ways of teaching children with SEN effectively in such an environment. In addition, mainstream schools are put in touch with specialist SEN schools when necessary so that the latter can share their experience and expertise on managing the needs of pupils with SEN.
Members highlighted the importance of support to pupils with SEN, especially during transition phases. The Cabinet Member pointed to the wide range of support services provided by the voluntary sector but observed that some form of list of groups and providers would be useful. Members concurred that a good support network was essential, but observed that people who relied on such networks became very frightened when the funding for such services was threatened. The Cabinet Member stated that the council was committed to supporting children with SEN and their parents through community groups and networks such as Parents in Partnership, and to sharing tasks, information, experience and resources with them.
Members questioned the Cabinet Member on the work of the Regional School Commissioner, who scrutinises and challenges academies on the quality of their education and support for their pupils. Officers confirmed that the Regional School Commissioner had made an intervention with regard to Broadmead Primary school, which is now due to go to a new academy trust. They added that the Commissioner also intervened regularly on less dramatic and less public issues in Croydon's academies.
Asked about the occurrence of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) , the Cabinet Member stated that a big piece of work had been carried out with the Metropolitan Police Service, where good practice had been shared on the tackling of CSE through Operation Raptor. This was a campaign to work with hotels, B&Bs and taxis to raise awareness of this phenomenon and possible risks. This good practice has also been shared with other boroughs.
The Cabinet Member was questioned on action taken in Croydon to combat bullying. She stressed the impact this couldhave on children's mental health and highlighted the awareness raising on this issue during "bullying week", although she acknowledged that action to eradicate bullying should be embedded in everyday processes.
Cllr Flemming announced new funding available for children's physical education and the borough's physical activity action plan, which will include making use of the borough's many parks.
The Cabinet Member was thanked for her detailed answers to Members' questions.