Review of 2012 – Children and Young People

In the latest of our scrutiny reviews of 2012,  here’s a recap on the work councillors have been doing to improve services for children and young people.

Academies

One of the biggest changes the coalition government has introduced since 2010 has been its education reforms. Any school can now choose to become an “academy”; giving it greater independence from the Local Authority (LA). And in Warwickshire, the majority of secondary schools have already gone down this route.

But where does that leave the LA? Does the Council still have a role to play within academies? What about our overall responsibility towards young people in Warwickshire? How will this be affected?

A group of councillors met regularly in 2012 to explore these questions. They talked to head teachers and lead officers to consider the impact of academies – and to develop ideas for better working relationships with them in the  future.

Their report contains a number of clear recommendations which will be considered by the Children and Young People Overview & Scrutiny Committee on 30 January.

Post-16 Education

One of the freedoms that academies now have is the ability to set up their own post-16 provision (aka, 6th forms). In the past, any school that wanted to set up a 6th form would require approval from the LA first… and a range of issues would be taken into account when making that decision.

But the concern is now that lots of new 6th forms will appear, and there will not be enough students to fill the places available. This will have a negative impact on the quality and diversity of the courses offered.

Councillors have already attended a dedicated seminar on the challenges this presents to Warwickshire, and the Overview & Scrutiny Committee has looked at how the LA is trying to ensure quality and diversity. But with legislation soon making it compulsory for all young people to participate in education or training up to the age of 17 (and to 18 by 2015), this is likely to be an ongoing area of scrutiny for councillors well into the future.

Transport

One of the concerns councillors had regarding post-16 education was the lack of transport funding to assist young people in travelling to schools or colleges. Although the government is raising the participation age for education or training, it is not providing any financial assistance for transport and travel to those affected. The Overview & Scrutiny Committee has asked the Portfolio Holder to raise this with local MPs and local government groups, as it could lead to significant problems for young people, especially those living in deprivation and/or in very rural locations.

Another transport issue that gained attention last year was the removal of Passenger Transport Assistants (PTAs) from certain school bus routes. The Council is removing PTAs as part of a number of changes to school transport, which it hopes will save around £700,000 per year.

However, various schools, parents and local councillors have called on the Overview & Scrutiny Committee to investigate this policy, worried about the risks to children travelling unaccompanied to and from school – and unconvinced about the level of savings likely to be achieved. The Committee has agreed to review progress of the new policy later in 2013 when more evidence on the impacts and savings are available.

Safeguarding

Back in 2011, Ofsted inspected Warwickshire’s services for Safeguarding and Looked After Children. The verdict was that these services were “good”, although there was “capacity to improve”. Following the inspection, officers drew up an Action Plan to address those areas where improvements could be made.

A small group of councillors set about monitoring the implementation of this Action Plan during 2012, and their findings will be reported to the Overview & Scrutiny Committee on 30 January.

That concludes this brief review of the work of the Children and Young People Overview & Scrutiny Committee in 2012.

The first meeting of 2013 will be on 30 January at 10am in Shire Hall, Warwick. Members of the public are welcome to attend, especially if you have questions to put to the Committee. The agenda will be published a week in advance and can be accessed here.

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