The Chair has agreed to take this as an urgent item.
It was commented that caseloads were at an acceptable level but there had been increase in some of the indicators which needed to be addressed and it was asked if the situations were under control. Officers said that performance had dipped in some areas but there was confidence in the robustness of heads of services action plans to address issues. There had been appropriate challenge by the Executive in areas where it had been identified that action plans were not robust enough.
A Member observed that there was a stark difference in issues in LA control and those only partly and as such on presenting information in the dashboard, it would be useful to extricate one from the other for adequate comparisons to be made
It was asked what the LA’s aspiration to reduce the number of children in care was as some of the data did not provide a good prognosticate indicator to reduce the number of children in care. For example there was an identifiable increase in cases in early help to be stepped in to children’s social care coupled with high number of cases of family disengagement. Officers said that one of the reasons they look at engagement was to push and drive officers to understand influencing factors for families to engage. Indicators provide a basis to understanding the reasons why and allows for escalation of concerns where necessary. When families step up and step down officers need to understand if the early help referral was the right decision at the time in order to prevent not getting the right services to families in ample time. Many families have repeat issues which is not necessarily negative, but needed partner understanding on preventative measures and for conversations on emerging concerns to take place to ensure that re referrals are minimised. It was vital to listen to children and families on their experience of the service.
It was asked when a child met the threshold for S47, whether keeping children out of care was a legitimate reasons for this action not to be taken. Officers said that if decisions about protecting children were made on the basis of not using financial resource this would be fundamentally wrong as decisions had to be made on a proportionate and reasonable basis. Legal meetings were conducted by senior officer who had significant experience and made decisions on what was best for the child. The role of advocacy in the court system was also significant to each case to ensure that actions were necessary and proportionate.
It was commented that in light of the budget and need to bring down spend to the London average, it was important that the dashboard be revised for financial monitoring and awareness. The sub-committee had a role to ensure that good services were being provided but also budgetary issues were addressed to bring the spending down to a balanced level. Reassurance was sought through provision of data to Members to make it easier for them to judge financial performance and discipline of the department. Officers said that financial information has not previously been produced alongside performance indicators for the sub-committee and further discussions would need to take place with officers on how this could be modelled in the dashboard.
The Interim Director of Education introduced the dashboard and the following was highlighted:
· Many of the indicators were reported on annually and only change on this basis so the dashboards were similar each time presented
· Fixed term and permanent exclusions were lower than the previous autumn, we are in the middle of a pandemic and children have not been in schools so figures were impacted by this.
· Elective Home Education (EHE) remains an area of focus due to many families making the decision to home school as a result of the pandemic, this was reflected across London. There had also been increases in home education of children on Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP)
· There were no national exams last year and non this year. Grades would be based on centre assessments
· KS4 and KS5 remain an area of focus of work
· The department would be working closely with schools on the impact of the pandemic
· The department would continue to work closely with schools on attendance once children return to school.
The sub-committee had the opportunity to ask questions
A Member commented that EHE was a trend preceding the pandemic and asked what knowledge was held of why these additional children were being home educated and also there was particular concerns due to vulnerability for children on EHCP that were being electively home educated and what could be done.
Officers said that the reason why EHE was a preference for parents was known with data held detailing reasons for the choice made. Children with ECHP who were home schooled were monitored through annual reviews where conversations took place to discuss appropriateness of the education being received. The LA do not have many statutory powers in this area but where able to, worked with schools to establish routes to getting children back into school. If reasons are due to pandemic, then officers worked with families to build confident to get children back into school where possible.
It was asked if schools were completing pupil migration forms properly and what difficulties may be prevalent in respect of children with EHCP being home educated. Officers said no analysis on this to date but can collate and report back to the sub-committee. It was vital that each child is to be looked at individually, and be careful that not making assumption with data presented with. Schools do complete migration data as required.
A Member said that the reduction in numbers of permanent exclusion was welcomed and asked what the profile of permanently excluded children was and what happens to them after exclusion especially during the pandemic. Officers said that the detail on exclusions was in the annual standards report, with disproportionality one of the areas of focus. Understanding what was happening and why were all details that were scrutinised extensively at the inclusions and exclusions board. A detailed discussion will take place when the report of the task and finish is received on this topic. In terms of children excluded now, for safeguarding reasons any children on managed move must be put on role of the school. The process would be the same with allocation of a places at a pupil referral unit or special schools which were all open during lockdown. The key was prevention of exclusions and working with schools on this through the fair access panel.
The Chair thanked officers for answers to questions
The Sub-Committee came to the following conclusions
1. It was important that the basis of decision making on cost reductions must be driven by children’s need and not a financial requirement to make savings.
2. Better understanding of budget reductions as a percentage of spend was required
3. Better understanding of how Elective Home Education is linked or impacts place planning was needed.
4. Monitoring of arrangements for children being electively home educated will be important and as numbers rise there would be capacity issues for officers in that department.
The Sub-Committee recommended that
1. Decisions continue to be made on the basis on fulfilment of statutory obligations and not compromising on use of financial resource.
2. Financial and benchmarking metrics to be included on future dashboards
3. Feedback to be included in the next education dashboard of monitoring arrangements for electively home educated children with particular attention to those children that were on EHCP plans