Venue: Cabinet Suite - Shire Hall, Gloucester. View directions
Declarations of interest
Please see note (a) at the end of agenda.
Councillor Andrew Miller declared he was in the process of applying to become a foster carer for the Authority.
Councillor Ben Evans declared he was a Director of a non profit organisation, Chime.
Councillor Linda Cohen declared she was a Director of Read with Me CIC.
The Chair wished to thank Fiona Crouch, Parent Representative for her contribution to the Committee, and wished her well for the future.
The Chair also explained this would be the last for Andrea Clarke from Democratic Services as she was retiring. He added that Andrea had been a tower of strength to him and had supported the Committee with helpful and positive suggestions throughout.
Andrea thanked the Chair for his kinds words and added that the Committee had worked hard for the children of Gloucestershire and she wished them well for the future.
The Chair also welcomed the newly appointed the Director of Children’s Safeguarding and Care, Anne James to the meeting.
It was agreed that the sentence at Paragraph 4.10 “that children were coached to pass the entrance test and many had shared tutoring sessions with friends” be deleted from the minutes.
That subject to the amendment, the minutes of the previous meeting held on the 13th January 2022 be approved as a correct record.
Ofsted Inspection Update
The committee to receive a verbal update from the Director of Children’s Services.
12.1 The Committee received a verbal update from the Director of Children’s Services (DCS), it was noted that the report would be within the public domain on the 1st April 2022.
12.2 Members were advised that Ofsted Inspectors had been on site during the 7th – 18th March 2022 and had conducted their review but were unable to give their judgement on the service at this point in time.
12.3 The DCS hoped that the Authority would no longer be one that required intervention. He explained that the Inspectors felt significant progress had been made to date and acknowledged that 2017 was a low point for the Authority.
12.4 The Committee were informed that children in Gloucestershire were now safe and this was recognised by Ofsted. During the Ofsted Inspection visit a number of cases were considered by the Inspectors, who noted that processes were well managed and any information requested was provided in a timely manner.
12.5 The DCS advised Members that Information Technology (IT) was regarded as a major issue and this was now a key corporate recommendation for improvement. It was noted that by and large the Authority was aware of its strengths and weaknesses. As the service had also conducted a self assessment prior to the inspection team’s arrival. The DCS explained there were some variations in practices and there were still caveats but the service needed to be consistently good for the Children and Young People of Gloucestershire and recognised there was no room complacency.
12.6 The DCS wished to record his thanks to the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) and frontline staff for all their efforts to bring about change, he explained that the job wasn’t yet done and it was necessary to keep up the pressure to achieve excellence going forward. The Chair on behalf of the Committee extended his thanks to the DCS and his team for their exceptional efforts.
12.7 Members of the Committee echoed the sentiment and thanked officers for their personal and professional commitment to the service and agreed that the only acceptable standard going forward was to strive for exceptional for the Children and Young People of Gloucestershire.
12.8 Officers thanked the Committee for their kind comments and added that it had been an exhausting journey but there was now a great Senior Leadership Team in place with a wealth of experience and knowledge and the future of that team was now secure. It was reiterated that children in Gloucestershire were no longer at risk and they were safe.
12.9 Members were informed there were two main challenges going forward, firstly the Liquid Logic IT System and secondly, the stability of the workforce. The DCS advised members there were still challenges with changing social workers and there were 27 vacancies to recruit too. He acknowledged that agencies caused issues, as there was a higher turnover of staff which further compounded the recruitment process.
12.10 In response to q question, the DCS explained in order to move ... view the full minutes text for item 12.
The Gloucestershire Domestic Abuse Strategy is attached to the agenda for information.
13.1 The Director of Partnerships & Strategy (DPS) explained the report provided an update on activities carried out as a response to the findings and highlighted wider practice development as informed by the learning of recent Domestic Homicide Reviews.
13.2 Kanchan Jadeja, Quality Assurance and Improvement Consultant explained that regular feedback was received from service users and the service was developing as it progressed. Members were informed there was a considerable amount of partnership working in homicide review cases which involved the Police, Health and Adult Services. Officers explained more work was required around male victims of Domestic Abuse.
13.3 It was explained there were issues around recurrent removals, and the service now ensured that the child no longer resided with the victim and perpetrator of domestic abuse, the aim going forward was to safeguard the child and this required a collaborative multi-agency working approach.
13.4 Members wished to know how more support could be given to those women who had children removed, as their own mental health would be suffering given the situation they found themselves in. Officers explained there was a vulnerable women’s project for women to receive support. The service had also worked with Gloucestershire University on a research report, which considered various operating models.
13.5 It was acknowledged that women who were victims of domestic abuse felt more comfortable in an environment that was led by women for women. It was noted the intention was to look at family centres for support, while working with social workers directly on the trauma of losing a child to care, and the added stress for the victim.
13.6 Members referred to paragraph 6.22 of the report, it was noted that 31% of victims were not offered a place of safety, yet 79% of offenders were given support, members questioned this imbalance.
13.7 Officers explained that domestic violence support was a complex process and had yet to embedded within the appropriate services. The access to support was primarily focused on the victims, unfortunately some victims were so traumatised the access rate was low initially. In terms of access support for victims it was necessary to look at what worked in practice
13.8 In response to a question, it was noted the Domestic Abuse Strategy was reviewed every three years. Members suggested that perhaps the strategy needed to be reviewed regularly as recent events during the pandemic had seen an increase in domestic violence. Members were advised that a joint meeting in association with Adult Social Care Scrutiny Committee, would be held in due course as a result of a Council motion in 2021.
13.9 Members recognised that many women who served time in HMP Eastwood Park were due to domestic violence, it was suggested that women’s centres would be more beneficial, as it would be better to rebuild women rather than incarcerate them. The DSP explained they were working closely with the Nelson Centre to provide support and advice. In addition, ‘The Door’ charity has commenced a mentoring programme, to ... view the full minutes text for item 13.
The Committee to understand the current position with regard to schools exclusions in Gloucestershire.
Ofsted Talks – School Exclusions and Alternative Provision Podcast (February 2022) is available at this link https://ofstedtalks.podbean.com/e/school-exclusions-and-alternative-provision/
The report from the task group commissioned by the committee in 2017 is available at this link https://glostext.gloucestershire.gov.uk/documents/s45296/Permanent%20Exclusions%20Task%20Group%20Report%20May%202018.pdf.
The Timpson Review of School Exclusions published in May 2019 is available at this link https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/807862/Timpson_review.pdf
14.1 The Director of Education presented the report in detail which provided the Committee with a summary overview of the longitudinal position with regard to permanent exclusions from schools within the county and the emerging academic picture for academic years 2020-21 and 2021-22. Members were advised that the last complete published data set for permanent exclusions and suspensions was for 2019-20, the national published data was expected for 2020-21 in July 2022. It was explained that the Authority monitored the figures closely and followed up any areas of concern through the Inclusion Team.
14.2 The Committee noted the numbers of exclusions were unprecedented and this was due to the pandemic, the issue of schools opening and closing had significantly impacted on the data sets. It was recognised during the pandemic that schools were only open to the most vulnerable and children of key workers.
14.3 Members were referred to Chart 11 on page 76 of the report, which highlighted the pre and post Covid breakdown levels. It was noted there tended to be a difference between figures at a national and local level and the data was collated in arrears. It was noted the common reason for permanent exclusion was due to either persistent disruptive behaviour or violence against an adult.
14.4 It was noted there was an increase in Primary and Secondary School permanent exclusions in many areas cross the County and boys tended to have the higher rate of exclusions. There also appeared to be a link with children with EHCPs and those on free school meals. All those cases with EHCPs where children were excluded related to Primary School children recorded with social, emotional and mental health in terms of their primary need. As a result, the Committee noted there was also concurrent increase in Primary Schools requests for EHCP assessments.
14.5 It was suggested that academisation may be a factor in terms of the difference practices and activities across the county, which had contributed to the increase in the number of excluded pupils. During the discussion members questioned the 2020 figures, as those children who were in receipt of free school meals were five times more likely to be exclsuded or a boy etc. were more likely to be excluded.
14.6 Some members were frustrated with the report. It appeared that academies could exclude pupils for alcohol, drugs, etc. Members felt GCC had little or no power over the academies to change the mechanics. Members questioned the point of reporting such information, if it was out of the Authority’s control.
14.7 The Director of Education (DoE) explained the report was initially requested to give the current picture and that had been provided, She didn’t agree there was nothing that could be done about the situation. The Committee were advised it was a complex area, and academisation was one factor and it could be harder to influence them, although a communication forum was being developed with the whole school system to address these wider system issues, including ... view the full minutes text for item 14.
The Gloucestershire Early Help: Overview of Provision 2021 document is attached to the agenda for information.
The outcome of the Ofsted Inspection will inform the provision of early help. The Government’s Independent Review of Children’s Social Care (due to be published in the next few weeks) may also inform on the structure and expected outcomes.
The committee to receive a verbal update on the current position and consider how it would wish to receive future updates.
15.1 The Director of Partnerships & Strategy (DPS) gave a detailed verbal update on the current position. He explained the outcome of the Ofsted Inspection would inform the provision of early help. Members were advised that the graphic chart on page 82 of the report had been shared with the Inspection Team and was well received, the committee recognised that early help prevented escalation into the system later on.
15.2 In response to a question, it was noted that Communications Team were leading on the promotion of early help services. The DPS explained the children and family centres would lead on the development of family hubs. It was reported that this area of work was currently ongoing and an updated would be provided to the September Committee meeting.
15.3 The Committee felt family centres did a considerable amount of good work in the local community and offered critical triage in terms of early help and support. Members were urged to look at their own local communities in an effort to develop their own understanding on what services were available in terms of early help. Many members believed in a comprehensive service and recognised that it was important to reach out rather than narrow down services.
15.4 The Committee recognised that the eagerly awaited Ofsted Report would give the Committee a clear sense of direction in terms of the commissioning of services. The DCS anticipated that early help services would receive a positive response in the report. He added the number of children going into care had not decreased, as children were not leaving the care system as in previous years. It was recognised this was a national trend and there was a more complex picture rather than a straight forward correlation.
15.5 The Chair confirmed that family hubs were on the work plan for the September meeting, but wondered how we measure the value added element and wondered what evidence could be brought to Committee to show that over time.
16.1 The Committee discussed the work plan in detail and agreed the following items be included for consideration:
- Ofsted Inspection Report and outcomes, subject to going Council primarily, potentially this could be an extraordinary meeting
- Children’s Services IT (LiquidLogic)
- Interdependence and the importance of partnership working
- Exclusion Data Set figures and restorative practice, it was agreed that the RSC be invited to a meeting, once the latest data set had been published in July.
- LGA Training events
- NSPCC Training (Caspar newsletter)
16.2 Members were reminded to submit questions on the standing items, three days in advance of the committee meeting.
16.3 The Committee were reminded it was important to remember the “So What” question and to always ask “How do we know if were making a difference”. It was recognised the Ofsted report would inform the Committee’s priorities and additional items may be added to the work plan at a later point
16.4 Officers were reminded to include the Young Ambassadors on their list of statutory consultees for strategies.