An update of the annual report of Virtual School as requested by the Panel on 5 September.
The Head of Virtual School introduced the updated report, which was a request of the Panel to return from the last meeting in September 2019.
Inside the report there was additional information to answer questions around looked after children and supporting them to get to university.
The report also highlighted the raw data of children in Key Stage 5, aged 17 and 18, who had taken A-levels (or equivalent) and would take other courses before they went to university. The Panel heard that personal advisors had been available to help advocate for young people and some universities were also helpful in providing support.
The report also showed that seventeen reception children required a huge amount of support in reading and writing, though the percentage was low, the service would want to do more.
Officers shared that there was a special phase for education to work with young people to close gaps in numbers, alongside working with foster carers. There were some people within that group not captured due to adoption. The Chief Executive Officer commented on the types of interventions addressed to bridge the gap. Officers said that the schools were working closely with foster carers and there was also training for carers for “play” at home and what could be offered through growth and play. The whole package included language skills and vocabulary.
The Chair commented on the pathway plans highlighting that a good development level for children starting primary school would prepare them for secondary school. Noting that there were challenges for the young person in taking their GCSEs at a later stage, it was important to understand how the service supported children so the gap did not increase year on year. Whilst a structured plan was really important, the model was utilised for the right cases. Officers encouraged for children to be taught reading at home the same way they are taught in school to help uniform the structure.
EMPIRE made reference to the support professionals would provide children going through stress, anxiety or depression in the long term future. Officers informed the Panel that the service worked with all the professionals working with children, providing training to understand awareness and better relate to children who suffered and would require support. Co-optee Members noted the encouraging change Virtual School had put in place, and commented on the provisions to unaccompanied asylum seeking children that there were professional services such as Off The Record for counselling, which was deemed positive.
ACTION – CEO to work with Director of Early Help and Children's Social Care to look at how the service and the Council (as an organisation) could create opportunities to children.
ACTION – CEO to work with the Director of Human Resources to raise the role of volunteering within the Council to support the Looked After Children Service (assisting young children in reading etc).
The Panel discussed the issue around the threshold for CAMHS, and noted that there was a push back to the role of CAMHS and other services who were supporting the young person. Officers informed that CAMHS were doing a lot of work on the transformation plan for more opportunity and integrated services. The service were looking at things nationally to get away from the emotional work, and looked at clinical work in the community and in schools for good guidance and expectations. Members of the Panel acknowledged the difficulty involved within the LAC services and highlighted the importance of hearing the voice of the young person. Other Co-optee Members noted that another local authority in Bexley recognised perspective from a young person by introducing the social worker to think about a young person’s experience.
Officers further informed the Panel that they were looking for a Tier 2 or 3 SLAM service for a young person who came into care and the experienced they have and look at a fast response and different support offered, from independent fostering agencies directed for children and their caregivers.
ACTION – For the Service to start thinking of ways we communicate with individuals on their social, emotional and physical wellbeing, rather than Tier 4 provision in SLAM.
Further discussions on CAMHS from Panel Members wanted to see a CAMHS service operate within schools, which would be better effective. This would manage time, resources and the demotivation of a young person being taken by a parent or foster carer.
Virtual School highlighted a project that was funded year by year providing trainee staff to provide mental health services. This needed ongoing medium funding. This would be additional support provided by schools which is not directly linked to CAMHS.
Other comments discussed by the Panel acknowledged that whilst CAMHS may be stretched, the alternative methods for mental health support is not often appreciated, this is because other methods are not often talked about. Work with Off The Record, and Mindness and other methods were to be recognised as an alternative method for young people to use in a positive way. This was to be further explored. Further comments from EMPIRE highlighted that children were not often comfortable in one to one therapy sessions and may feel tranquil in group sessions. The idea for the group therapy to happen outside of school time or at weekends; to provide a session in school or youth clubs as it would be beneficial for children to get involved, was put forward. It was noted by officers who addressed the Panel that there was specification to provide the services young people were asking for.
ACTION – To consider and introduce group therapy to young children as an alternative to one-to-one therapy. EMPIRE to lead.
In response to questions raised by Panel Members regarding the creation of an app to support young people when applying for university, officers highlighted that the service had newly signed a years’ license for a software that was being trialled.
ACTION – To have data of all support available for LAC when they go to university, i.e. What are the choices, what is supported, how to apply, all the stages from UCAS to personal specification, with case studies. To be in collaboration with the Leaving Care Team [long-term action].
ACTION – To integrate the local offer for care leavers.
Further questions from EMPIRE were asked regarding how young people could access their pupil premium and how they could access computers available at home. Officers shared that pupil premium money was given to schools to choose how it could be spent. Going forward, some of the pupil premium would be held back for money to be spent on a laptop or a tech model for each child aged 9+. EMPIRE further enquired regarding the support available to buy books for studying core subjects and other subjects in preparation for GCSE, and officers confirmed that all materials would come from the same pot of money accessed through school, and support was available via Virtual School. It was also noted that foster carers received allowances for books.
The Chair concluded for officers to provide an overview of schools across the borough to show how Pupil Premium was being used as not many parents had been informed about the scheme or know how to use it, and further to support carers in how to use Pupil Premium.
ACTION – Virtual School to provide an overview of the spending in pupil premium.