Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee 6th January 2015

The next meeting of the Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee will consider a variety of topics covering several areas of business.

Proposed Changes to Home to School Transport Policy
The Committee shall be receiving a report which will be detailing the consultation exercise proposals in relation to the proposed changes to the Council’s Home to School Transport Policy. The Council has a legal obligation to provide home to school transport (in certain circumstances) and the report will outline the indicative savings that could be made by withdrawing some areas of the service.
Achievement of Warwickshire Children and Young People in National Tests in 2014
This report will focus in detail on the GCSE results achieved by children in Warwickshire during the summer of 2014. In 2014 The Department for Education (DfE) changed the reporting arrangements for GCSEs following Professor Alison Wolf’s Review of Vocational Education report. The Committee will be looking at how schools from across the county performed when compared to their statistical neighbours and with other schools nationally.
Other items due to be considered at the meeting include Performance of the Independent Reviewing Service which will outline how specialised Reviewing Officers undertake their duties in protecting the Counties’ children and keeping them safe from harm.

The meeting starts at 10.00 on Tuesday 6th January 2015 in Committee Room 2, Shire Hall, Warwick and is open to the public (click here for the agenda and reports).If you have a question that you wish to ask at the meeting, please contact Ben Patel-Sadler at least 3 working days before the meeting. Otherwise, please arrive at least 15 minutes before the start of the meeting and ensure that the Chair is aware of the matter on which you wish to speak.

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.

Schools Out?

There’s been lots of media coverage recently about the government’s reform of the education system. Secretary of State, Michael Gove MP, has been far from slow in driving forward his desire to give schools more freedom and independence. But what’s the situation in Warwickshire? Councillors are about to embark on a focused review to find out…

Following legislation in 2011, we are seeing more and more maintained schools converting to “Academies”, which receive their funding directly from central government – rather than via the Local Authority.

These Academies are free to manage all sorts of things in their own way:

  • The way they offer places to pupils (their “admissions” procedure)
  • How they deliver the curriculum
  • Management of the school, including who sits on their governing body and who they employ
  • School term dates and the length of the school day

The government has also made it far easier for parents and interested groups to set up their own “Free Schools”, which are essentially brand-new schools that have all the same freedoms of an Academy.

Posing questions

But what does this mean for the Local Authority? Until now, we’ve played a central role in the school system, with responsibility for all sorts of things, such as:

  • Distributing funding to schools, and monitoring how it is spent
  • Co-ordinating admissions and the number of places available at each school
  • Employing and advising school staff
  • Managing school facilities and sites

Traditionally, the Local Authority has also provided a range of services that schools “buy back” from us, such as catering, admissions appeals, school transport, maintenance and cleaning. What’s the future for these services in Gove’s new world?

As you’d imagine, there are many questions and unknowns for Local Authorities at this time regarding their relationship with schools. It’s one of the hottest topics across all of local government.

Seeking answers

A small group of our Councillors in Warwickshire are about to start work on exploring these questions in real detail. They’ll be meeting regularly over the coming months to examine evidence, interview witnesses, probe experts and review policy.

What will this achieve? Well, they will be aiming to put forward some useful and practical ideas for the Council to put into action. Perhaps around the type of information that parents have access to when considering a school; or maybe a protocol for how Academies could work with the Local Authority to maintain community engagement.

There is certainly lots to look at. And we’ll be reporting back here with updates from the review as it progresses.

If you have any views or suggestions for what the Councillors should consider, then do let me know via richardmaybey@warwickshire.gov.uk

Scrutinising services for children and young people

What help does the Council provide for young carers?

How can we support more young people into education, employment and training?

Is the Council fulfilling its responsibilities as a Corporate Parent to looked-after children?

These questions and more will be considered at the next meeting of the Children and Young People Overview & Scrutiny Committee, which will take place:

Thursday 2 February 2012, 10am

Committee Room 2, Shire Hall, Warwick

The full agenda and papers can be downloaded here.

Members of the public are encouraged to attend. If you’d like to ask a question at the meeting, please send it through in advance to richardmaybey@warwickshire.gov.uk

Nuneaton and Bedworth Area Committee – 1 February

Residents of Nuneaton and Bedworth may be interested in the next Area Committee meeting, where County Councillors from the local area will be meeting to discuss:

  • The proposed amalgamation of Stockingford Infant and Junior Schools into a single “all-through” primary school
  • How the Council is looking to improve broadband access for residents across the county

The meeting takes place at 6pm on Wednesday 1st February 2012 at the EPIC Centre, Nuneaton. You can download the full agenda and papers here.

Members of the public are welcome to attend. And if you’d like to ask Councillors a question at the meeting – about anything, not just the items above – please contact richardmaybey@warwickshire.gov.uk in advance.

New approach for pupils at risk of exclusion

At a scrutiny meeting on 14 December, Councillors received a presentation about the proposed closure of the Pupil Referral Unit (PRU).

Ofsted recently placed Warwickshire’s PRU in “special measures”, deeming the provision of education to be inadequate. As a result, the Council has been looking at how else these at-risk children could be educated.

A pilot scheme began in September whereby funding is devolved to groups of headteachers – known as Area Behaviour Partnerships (ABPs) – who work in partnership to arrange alternative education for pupils. So rather than be sent to the PRU, they could be enrolled at a nearby college, or receive specialist support at a Learning Support Unit. The aim is to improve pupils’ life chances by keeping them in mainstream education as long as possible.

Representatives from Warwickshire’s four ABPs attended the scrutiny meeting to share their progress to date. A very open discussion took place, and the following observations were noted:

  • While members endorsed the initial work of the ABPs, there were cross-party concerns over the proposed changes, particularly the speed at which the PRU will close
  • The amount of funding provided for LSUs is not enough for many schools, who are having to supplement this from within their own budget
  • While the Council will provide a list of quality-assured providers, there is no requirement for ABPs to select from this list
  • Close monitoring of the ABPs will therefore be needed, with regular reports brought to the scrutiny committee
For more detail, please see the minutes of the meeting.

Update: Cabinet approved the closure of the PRU on 15 December 

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