To receive a summary/comparison of the performance of children and young people in Croydon Local Authority maintained schools and academies for the academic years 2015/16 and 2016/17.
The Chair wanted it noted that this item was mis-titled as the Sub-Committee would be looking at the audited performance of schools at the next meeting on 5 February 2019. The main focus of this item was on exclusions and children missing in education.
The Head of Education Standards Safeguarding and Inclusion introduced the report and directed Members to two main highlights. The Sub-Committee noted that it was difficult for the department to provide conclusive overarching comparative data on performance due the fluctuation in performance in different areas periodically for maintained schools and academies, as well as the fact that there was a distinctively smaller number of maintained secondary schools in comparison to academies in the borough.
In terms of permanent exclusions, Croydon schools compared favourably nationally in primary and secondary level with strong engagement by schools in the fair access process which reduced the number of permanent exclusions. Figures showed that 71% of referrals that went to the Fair Access Panels secured places at alternative mainstream schools. Secondary fixed term exclusions were above the national average whilst primary school figures were below average. Elective Home Education figures show a disproportionate figure in the numbers for academies. It was important to note that it was difficult to provide an overarching reasons for this as figures showed that one academy has 10 referral in the period.
There had been a rise in the figures for children missing from education due to a change in the regulations that came into effect in 2016 that required local authority and academies to record any pupils coming off the school roll.
It was queried whether there had been any further exploration of the particular themes emerging from one of the main reasons behind elective home education, which was dissatisfaction in the system. Officers advised that it was difficult to quantify the reasons why people were dissatisfied with the education system as this was individual to the parent. It also could not be specifically attributed to either academies or maintained schools.
The Chair commented that he had visited different schools and spoken extensively about the issues of children in danger of exclusions and explored the processes of Fair Access Panels for both primary and secondary schools. Concerns were expressed around the robustness of the process in primary schools in comparison to secondary schools. Primary schools have recognised there are issues with inconsistency and were working to make their processes more robust. In terms of exclusions, levels were high in some schools and low in others, which led to concerns regarding the variation. Information on children sent to Pupil Referral Units (PRU) was also needed in order to understand the totality of the picture.
The Executive Head of Harris Schools commented that in terms of the data provided on the fair access protocol, it may be helpful to look at the data over a number of years in order to form an understanding of what was meant by referrals and offers. The data does not show that while a school may have offered to take a child for a period of 12 – 14 weeks, the provisional move may have failed or that failures sometimes occurred at the end stage of the provisional move. It was suggested that the Sub-Committee may want to look at patterns for successful or failed moves.
It was important to note that while fair access formal meetings occurred every two weeks, heads of schools also engaged in informal discussions and conducted geographical transfers so the data provided while good did not reflect the whole picture. There was also the issue of children that come off the schools system for periods due to different reasons such as going abroad for a period of time.
In response to a question about the definition of an informal or managed move, the Executive Head of Harris Schools advised that it was the same process as a Fair Access Panel, a 12 week provisional move with a review held at week six. It was conducted informally between schools and with informal documentation so there was no recording of this with the LA.
A Member commended that while informal or managed moves were completed with good intentions, accountability and transparency was difficult to achieve in these circumstances.
The Head of Learning Inclusion stated that it was challenge was to produce a whole picture of pupil movement. Fair Access Panels provided a level of security and that when schools engaged in managed moves it was difficult for the local authority to track pupils as they only receive data when a pupil comes on or off roll. This did not always reflect whether they were just moving to another part of the borough so the reasons for movement were not always clear.
It was questioned whether the local authority had knowledge of unlawful exclusions, with officers responding that the nature of the exclusions being unlawful would mean the Council had no knowledge. There had been cases that had come to the attention of the local authority in the past
The Chair commented that it was difficult to ascertain if the Council had a grip on the process of formal and managed moves and whether it was effective in producing good outcomes for pupils or not. Officers advised that the process in primary schools was more complex. Initially when a placement was breaking down, some schools wanted an instant solution such as moving the child to another school. There was now a staged approach for fair access with a forum to manage each case through conversations, the provision of support and shared expertise, which was proving to be more successful. Managed moves had now been incorporated into that process. In terms of secondary school provisional moves, it would not be expected for the move to break down in for example the 11th week as any signs of this should have been identified earlier in the process with additional strategies put in place to address any issues.
It was questioned whether the Fair Access Panel was making a difference in Croydon and what evidence could be provided of this as it was important to the community that we serve to provide feedback on services. Officers responded that the papers to be presented at Cabinet in March 2019 would provide some information. It was important to note that all schools in Croydon would have a high level of mobility and this was why the role of Child Missing for Education (CME) officers were vital to services, in particular due to safeguarding reasons.
The Sub-Committee Members’ raised questions on whether there were occurrences where a child had been referred to the Fair Access Panel and had had their referral rejected and if this would result in permanent exclusion from their school. Officers confirmed that this did occur but not often due to effective challenge by the panel on what solutions had been sought and if all that could be done for the pupil had been explored
A Member commented that whilst the report tried to cover various aspects, it was difficult to be effective as there were different issues experienced in different schools. There were concerns of a marked reduction in GSCE outcomes in some academy chains, in addition to the issues of children coming off the school roll. It was suggested that it would have been interesting to review data on the comparison of some academy chains against national figures on the level of year 10 and 11 GCSE children coming off the school roll which was a crucial school year.
The Executive Head of Harris responded that Members take account of the demographics of London compared to the rest of the country when looking at any comparative data. Members were informed that any academy school did not want to lose pupils and that in Harris schools when looking at mobility, his figures reflected that since September 2018, 37 pupil had left the school but 50 had joined the school. It the school was losing students it also had to recruit students and pupils did not tend to leave in years 10 and 11 as these were exam years, the number of pupils at his school’s in year 10 were no different to that in year 11.
Concern was raised that the majority of the discussion had focused on data and not necessarily on exclusions and the reasons behind the rate of occurrences. It was questioned whether there was an assumption that if some academies excluded more than others it made them an unsatisfactory chain of schools. In response, the Executive Head of Harris School highlighted that they had the lowest exclusion rate of schools in the borough and Ofsted had mentioned in their reports. The school saw itself as a second chance for some pupils.
The Executive Director for Children, Families and Education stated that discussions would be held with senior officers on how to capture information on all areas of the discussion covered in order to provide assurance on these matter and to reflect on the issues and challenges presented from this meeting.
The Chair and fellow Sub-Committee members were explicit in their requirement for any data supplied to be Croydon specific and broken down by individual schools due to the variance in the demographics of the borough and its complexity.
In reaching its recommendations the Sub-Committee came to the following Conclusions:
i. That the Secondary School Heads Associations appeared to work well and were engaged in their meetings
ii. It was difficult to understand the process regarding the exclusion of children and the Fair Access Panels.
iii. The Local Authority did not have sight of managed transfers.
iv. There was limited comprehensive data available regarding those children that came off the school roll and their outcomes.
v. The Sub-Committee would welcome further information on the progress of the recently launched staged approach for Primary Schools which enabled PRU places at Bramley Bank.
The Sub-Committee Resolved to:
i. Recommend to the Council that further information be provided to the Sub-Committee on exclusions and the flow of children through the education system.
ii. Recommend to the Council that better monitoring of managed transfers was required to ensure the Local Authority better oversight of outcomes for children involved in the process.
iii. Form a Task Group to investigate and collate data on children coming off the school roll and the mechanisms involved, with a view to reporting back at the Sub Committee meeting on the 12 March 2019.