Question Time with the Cabinet Member for Children Young People and Learning, Councillor Alisa Flemming.
The Cabinet Member for Children Young People and Learning, Councillor Alisa Flemming gave a presentation, during which the following points
· The consultation period for the Children and Young People Plan was coming to an end, the vision had been updated and once finding were formalised the final details would be disseminated
· There was still much to do to ensure there was a balance in the amount of cases held by social workers.
· A new Virtual Head had recently been appointed which had given pace to the service, resulting in a positive impact for both the service and children served.
· There was an open invitation for young people to attend the Corporate Parenting Panel to put their views across, allowing their voices to be heard directly.
· There remained challenges in the leaving care service in ensuring good access to support for young people, adequate preparation for them in leaving the care system as well as improved housing and gateway service.
· Further work was needed to address recruitment issues. Currently 61% of staff were permanent employees with a lot of work invested in improving this area.
· The service continued its pilot of whole family partnership which put families at the centre of decision making and looked to address the complex needs of both young people as well as the adults in a family unit.
· There were challenges in DSG and High Needs Block and although there has been investment from the Government it was not rising at the same pace as the level of need.
· The Legacy Youth Centre had been successful with a good uptake in the number of young people attending. All LAC children were able to access the centre as their membership had been paid for. The Ofsted inspectors visited the facility and had spoken to young cared for children in attendance.
Following the presentation the Sub-Committee was given the opportunity to question the Cabinet Member on the content of the report and the information provided during the presentation.
Concern was raised over the statistics for off-rolling and exclusions, and the level of support being offered by the Council to support families. In response it was advised that there were link officers in place who worked directly with schools to improve standards in accordance with attainment targets and also to support children by helping to keep them in mainstream education.
The stability of the workforce through the increasing number of permanent staff recruited to the service was commended.
A Member raised concern about the measures used for missing LAC children. It was questioned how improvements could be realised with the number of children going missing and improving RHI figures which remained consistently low. The Cabinet Member advised that this was an issue of national focus with more work to be done to address the issues concerned. There was complexity around why young people go missing and where they went. Regular multiagency panel meetings took place with the Police and Health Service. RHI offer was over 90% but take up remained low, in particular with young 17 year olds.
It was questioned what was being done to improve the educational performance and outcomes of KS4 and KS5 children. The Cabinet Member acknowledged that there had been more of a focus on KS2 outcomes which had impacted on KS4 and KS5 performance. The priority was now addressing issues with KS4 with measures being taken such as the merger of colleges and work with CALAT.
It was questioned what was being done to monitor spending and school budgets. It was highlighted that there wasn’t an obligation for schools to inform the local authority of their budget, with any information provided on a voluntary basis. It was often found that schools were more willing to have an open dialogue when they were experiencing difficulties and the Council provided support in various ways during these instances.
It was further questioned what was being done to address the effect of surplus places in schools on both budgets and performance. Additionally whether lessons had been learnt from the issues that led to the closure of St Andrews Church of England School. It was acknowledged that due to parental choice, some schools were left with surplus spaces and the Council was aware of those schools at risk. Support was given to schools through working with them on reduction of classes and exploring ways to manage budget.
Members raised concern about the risk of other schools suffering the same fate as St Andrew’s School and questioned the means of identifying schools experiencing similar problems to ensure that adequate preventative support was provided. The Cabinet Member said that the Council took all necessary steps to explore ways to support a school prior to any decision on possible closure, with the final decision not made by the local authority. As part of lessons learnt, the Council was consistently monitoring schools with early intervention processes in place to be deployed where necessary. It was further acknowledged that the closure of St Andrews was a great loss for local residents, the Council and Croydon as a Borough.
A Member questioned the rationale behind the decision for Octavo services being brought back as an in-house service. Officers advised that Octavo was commissioned for a fixed period and the contract was coming to an end. A decision was made to bring the service back in house for a number of reasons which included difficulties experienced by other LA’s that had procured private companies to run the service as well as the lack of coordination and communication between Octavo and the Councils Education department. It was felt that the Council could deliver the service that Octavo had but better whilst retaining the training offer, protecting the name and reputation they had held with schools. Additionally the service would be brought back in house to a bigger infrastructure at a period that the service was moving towards a Locality Model of service delivery.
In response to a Member question on how the decision had been made for the location and site of the Legacy Youth Centre, it was confirmed that during the development stage, it had been agreed that the site must be as close to the town centre as possible due to transport links. Ofsted visited the centre as part of their inspection and were impressed.
As a follow up it was asked what could be done to address the concerns of some young people about their personal safety when travelling to the site. It was highlighted that there would always be complexities and the Council would always work to safeguard children. There were regular police and neighbourhood safety officer patrols around the site, all working to prevent confrontation between young people as much as possible.
A Member noted that on their visits to the site they had spoken with many young people who were pleased with the provision of the centre. Previously many young people who may have been loitering in the town centre, possibly getting in trouble were now making the decision to go straight to the centre after school to utilise its facilities.
The Chair informed officers that at the next meeting, the Sub-Committee would expect them to demonstrate how they were driving up standards and using evidence lessons learnt from this Ofsted Journey.
At the conclusion of this item the Chair thanked the Cabinet Member and
Officers for their attendance at the meeting and their engagement with the Sub-Committee’s questions.
The Sub-Committee came to the following Conclusions: