The Committee will hear from the Cabinet Members for Children’s Services, Education and Youth Provision, who will outline their priorities for the next 12 months.
Mr Mark Shaw, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services
Mrs Anita Cranmer, Cabinet Member for Education
Mr Tony Green, Cabinet Member for Youth Provision
Mr Tolis Vouyioukas, Corporate Director, Children’s Services
Mr Richard Nash, Service Director – Children’s Social Care
Mr Simon James, Service Director – Education
Children’s Services Priorities
Cllr Shaw listed the key priorities as follows:
- Service improvement
- Recovery from Covid-19
- Budgetary control.
Cllr Tony Green, Cabinet Member for Youth Provision, listed the key priorities as follows:
· Recruitment of in-house foster carers
· Improving the education and health of looked after children
· The transition of children from childhood to adulthood.
Cllr Cranmer listed the following three key priorities:
- SEND delivery and improvements
- Improving education provision
- Home to school transport. (This responsibility was divided - Mrs Cranmer advised that whilst she dealt with the policy; the delivery came under the Logistics portfolio).
The following key points were raised by the Select Committee members during discussion:
- A member asked for an explanation of how 90% of pupils attended a good or outstanding school as he felt the attainment gap had increased over the years. Mr Vouyioukas explained that the figure of 90% was published by OFSTED. He reassured the committee that the schools and authorities were working together to narrow the attainment gap; it was a joint responsibility.
- A member asked if there were plans to improve the transition process for SEND children and children with EHCPs as they reached adulthood. Mr Vouyioukas acknowledged that there were a large number of children and young people involved and that the Service was working hard to provide a seamless transition.
- It was noted that it had proved difficult to recruit high quality social workers and this was a national problem. Mr Shaw explained that the Council was ‘growing’ its own social workers and a new group had been due to start in the Academy, but had been delayed due to Covid-19. Mr Nash stated that he had been working hard over the last 18 months on the recruitment and retention of qualified social workers, as well as growing the academy. The Service was in a much stronger position today than in the last two years; it was retaining more staff and the staff survey had indicated that staff felt supported. Recruitment had also taken place from Canada and Australia and five social workers had started before the pandemic; discussions were being held to decide when another four would be able to start work.
- Mrs Cranmer was pleased to report that after having similar recruitment difficulties, an additional 12 SEN Officers had been recruited in recent months, which had contributed to the tremendous improvement in the EHCP turnaround.
- A member highlighted the increase in the number of looked after children being placed with in-house foster carers, which was good for the children and the Council’s budget. Mr Nash stated that it was important for children to be placed as near to home as possible and stated that there had been an increase from 128 to 180 placements with in-house foster carers Recruitment of new foster carers involved a significant amount of training.
- In response to a question on the attainment gap, Mr James agreed to circulate an update on the position in Buckinghamshire compared with national figures and statistical neighbours.
ACTION: Mr James
- Mr James advised that the decision on when, or whether, the 11+ Secondary Transfer test would take place would be made in the next two weeks and he would inform the Committee as soon as the decision was known.
- In response to being asked what could be done to implement improvements more speedily; Mr Vouyioukas stressed that the Service was doing its best to recruit as many permanent social workers as possible and had discussed the situation with OFSTED.
- A member raised concerns that a large number of children permanently excluded from school could be fuelling the county lines problem and asked how many children were excluded. Mr Vouyioukas stated that the number of exclusions in Buckinghamshire had decreased and it was not proven that there was a connection between excluded children and the county lines. Mr Nash added that Children’s Services staff were part of an exploitation hub, with Thames Valley Police, Health, Education and Youth Offending Service colleagues,which worked to identify young people at risk of exploitation.
- Mr Vouyioukas acknowledged that recruitment was a challenge and agreed that the offer of key worker housing could be helpful; the Service had been working with colleagues in the Housing Department to discuss this possibility.
- Mr Tony Green stated that there were willing and capable families who could provide fostering but were unsure how to go about it; more publicity was required to achieve results.
- A member advised that neighbouring councils had discovered that education teams had benefitted from working from home during the pandemic and asked whether the Council was considering an increase in hot desking in order to become less reliant on office space. Mr Vouyioukas explained that hot desking was out of the question due to the Covid-19 pandemic and that the Council was working to ensure the officers were safe and compliance with public health advice was followed.
- A member referred to page 20 of the agenda pack; priority 5 – Improving the education and health of looked after children, which read, ‘as a service, we must aim to raise the ambitions, educational attainment and health of looked after children in order to help them realise their potential, whatever their starting point is’ and asked how we compared to neighbouring authorities and nationally. Mr Vouyioukas agreed to provide a response after the meeting.
ACTION: Mr Vouyioukas
In response to a query on additional support which had been put in place for young carers during the pandemic; Mr Nash stated that there was a Carers Strategy and that the Service had been aware of the need to contact those families and had arranged respite care where appropriate.