Agenda and minutes

Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Thursday 18 January 2024 10.00 am

Venue: Council Chamber - Shire Hall, Gloucester. View directions

Contact: Laura Powick  Email: laura.powick@gloucestershire.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

2.

Minutes of the previous meeting pdf icon PDF 97 KB

To confirm and sign the minutes of the meeting held on 9 November 2023.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

2.1      The minutes of the meeting held on 9 November 2023 were approved as a correct record.

 

 

 

3.

Declarations of interest

Members of the Committee are invited to declare any pecuniary or personal interests relating to specific matters on the agenda.

 

Please see note (a) at the end of agenda.

Minutes:

3.1      Cllr Dr Andrew Miller declared an interest as a foster carer for Gloucestershire County Council (GCC).

 

4.

School Attendance Update, Alternative Provision Update, and Behaviour Management Overview pdf icon PDF 549 KB

To receive an update on school attendance and alternative provision, as well as an overview of behaviour management.

Minutes:

4.1      Philip Haslett, Head of Education Strategy and Development, provided an update on school attendance, Alternative Provision (AP), and behaviour management in schools.

 

4.2      Members were informed that school attendance was a concern nationally due to social shifts in attitudes and behaviours post pandemic.

 

4.3      In comparison to the national figures and statistical neighbours, school attendance has historically been positive in Gloucestershire, however persistent absence was a concern locally, as it was nationally.

 

4.4      GCC was working with the Department for Education (DfE) to implement updated guidance on attendance. This included the implementation of regular targeted support meetings in schools to address cases of persistent absence and to ensure multi-agency plans were in place. These meetings also provided the opportunity for wider inclusion conversations with schools.

 

4.5      Most schools in Gloucestershire were using a new DfE national reporting system for attendance, called WONDE, which was now working well.

 

4.6      Research had been carried out by Public First to identify what was underpinning these issues of persistent absence and non-attendance. In Gloucestershire, a multi-agency group had been initiated, including schools, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), Early Help, and members of the Inclusion Team at GCC, to look at this research and to understand what could be done locally to address these issues.

 

4.7      Productive conversations were being held with the Secondary Heads Association after the group raised concerns about the issue.

 

4.8      One member queried whether penalty notices for non-attendance were applied locally. In response, it was explained that whilst penalty notices were used in some instances, for example, if a child was absent due to a holiday, in some cases the use of penalty notices would not be appropriate and could exacerbate problems, such as where there were concerns regarding mental health. It was noted that DfE guidance did not promote the use of penalty notices to resolve the issue of persistent absence, instead recognising the need to understand what was driving the issue and addressing it in a sustainable way. Data could be provided to members on the use of penalty notices within the County.

 

ACTION – Philip Haslett

 

4.9      One member commented that the relationship between schools and families had broken down since the Covid-19 pandemic and that some forms of poor communication from schools on attendance could be compounding attitudes towards the issue. Officers acknowledged that the social contract between schools and families had changed because of the pandemic. Conversations had been held with the Secondary Heads Association as to how to better communicate with parents on the topic, such as by focusing on the impact of absence on the child and on the loss of education.

 

4.10   A member asked whether persistent absence was being addressed early enough. In response, members were informed that schools generally managed attendance issues well, such as by developing Individual Attendance Plans.

 

4.11   In response to a further query, it was explained that the new reporting system would produce more consistent and stronger data both nationally and locally which  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.

5.

Impact of the Early Years/ Childcare Spring Budget on Early Years and Childcare pdf icon PDF 142 KB

To receive an overview of the impact of the Early Years/ Childcare Spring Budget on Early Years and Childcare in Gloucestershire.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

5.1      Sarah Hylton, Head of Early Years Service, presented the report on the impact of the Early Years and Childcare Spring Budget on early years and childcare provision in Gloucestershire.

 

5.2      Members were reminded of the challenges the sector had faced nationally over the last few years, including a reduction in the numbers of early year placements available and issues relating to the recruitment and retention of staff. These issues had been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and cost of living difficulties.

 

5.3      Within Gloucestershire, whilst several settings had been lost, the number of childcare places available had been maintained.

 

5.4      Gloucestershire’s Childcare Sufficiency and Assessment report had been approved by Cabinet in September 2023, and had determined that across the County there was sufficient provision of childcare, with a small number of areas requiring additional places. 

 

5.5      Members were informed that the measurable outcomes for children had improved in recent years, in terms of the quality of early years provision and the numbers of children attaining a good level of development. Work was continuing to further address attainment gaps for children eligible for Free School Meals (FSM), those with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and children from minority communities.

 

5.6      It was noted that the uptake of 15 hours of free childcare for families from disadvantaged backgrounds was now at 76% within Gloucestershire.

 

5.7      Members were reminded of the announcement in the 2023 Spring Budget of the extension of Government funded childcare hours, which would be rolled out in stages. The details of the proposals were included in the report attached to the agenda for this meeting.

 

5.8      The extension of funded childcare hours would enable more parents to return to work and would improve children’s learning outcomes and readiness for school.

 

5.9      The Council was working with childcare providers to map current supply of places, to discuss opportunities for providers to increase their capacity, and to understand the support providers required from the Council to meet the potential increase in demand for childcare places.

 

5.10   It was acknowledged that it was difficult to estimate the increased demand for places, and it was recognised that demand was more likely to increase in line with the broader offer of childcare funding from September 2025.

 

5.11   The Council was working particularly closely with childminders, as they were often seen as a good childcare option for the youngest or vulnerable children.

 

5.12   Members were also reminded of the Government’s ambition for all parents and carers of primary school-aged children, who needed it, to be able to access term-time childcare in their local area from 8am to 6pm by 2026.

 

5.13   It was noted that many schools already provided this wrap-around care, however the initial funding would be for LAs to work with providers to set up or expand existing provision.

 

5.14   Work to build childcare capacity within the County would continue over the next two years. A new lead had been recruited to support this programme and a consultation would be  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

Area SEND Inspection pdf icon PDF 120 KB

To receive an update on the Area SEND Inspection which took place between 27 November and 15 December 2023.

 

The Committee to consider the recommendations from the inspection at its meeting on 7 March 2024.

Minutes:

6.1      Kirsten Harrison, Director of Education, provided a verbal update on the Local Area SEND Inspection, which took place over three weeks between 27 November and 15 December 2023.

 

6.2      It was noted that the outcome report was expected to be published in mid to late February 2024.

 

6.3      Kirsten Harrison informed members that it was a challenging and rigorous experience, but one that was part of the ongoing improvement journey across the agencies providing services to children and young people with SEND and their families. She thanked all staff who contributed to the inspection and recognised the commitment and care all officers in the scope of the inspection had for children and young people in the County.

 

6.4      Ann James echoed her thanks to staff who contributed to the inspection. She acknowledged the challenging framework staff were required to work within and explained that the inspection results would inform the Service’s continued improvement journey.

 

6.5      Philip Robinson, Cabinet Member for Education, Skills, and Bus Transport, put on record his thanks to Kirsten Harrison, Ann James and their teams for the commitment shown during the inspection and for going above and beyond the call of duty.

 

6.6      The Chair of the Committee also thanked the whole team involved in the inspection. He advised that the Committee would scrutinise the inspection report in more detail at the next Committee meeting.

 

 

7.

Fostering Annual Report pdf icon PDF 689 KB

To receive the Private Fostering and Fostering Annual Report.

Minutes:

7.1      Cllr Dr Andrew Miller withdrew from the meeting, and Cllr Linda Cohen chaired this agenda item.

 

7.2      Tammy Wheatley, Head of Service Permanence, provided a detailed overview of the Fostering Service Annual Report.

 

7.3      Members were informed that it had been a challenging picture for fostering both nationally and locally over the past 12 months. LAs continued to compete with independent fostering agencies. LAs were collaborating to address this issue, and videos had been produced to encourage people to foster through LAs rather than private agencies.

 

7.4      There had been an increase in the number of fostering kinship arrangements both nationally and locally.

 

7.5      There had been an overall net increase of 22 fostering households within Gloucestershire. This was not sufficient to meet need requirements, as well as the target for 80% use of in-house foster carers. Currently, 69% of all children in care placed with foster carers were placed with in-house foster carers. The use of in-house foster carers allowed children to maintain local connections, enabled the Council to have better oversight and training of providers, and provided cost savings.

 

7.6      A number of foster carers had retired from or left fostering over the last 12 months. Reasons included changes in personal circumstances, often because of the impact of Covid-19.

 

7.7      A number of new support services had been introduced to enhance the Council’s offer to foster carers. This included the launch of the first Mockingbird constellation, which had received positive feedback from foster carers and children. Plans were in place to open a minimum of 6 constellations across Gloucestershire. A good package of training was also provided for foster carers.

 

7.8      Performance data remained stable and the target for the upcoming year was to work towards improved quality of provision based on feedback from young people.

 

7.9      Focuses for the upcoming year also included addressing the sufficiency of foster homes, continuing to roll out the Mockingbird Project, raising awareness of fostering within the County, and continuing to embed changes as part of the improvement journey.

 

7.10   In response to a query, it was confirmed that kinship carers were supported by the family courts if they were suitable for the young person.

 

7.11   A member commended the Mockingbird Project on bringing together foster carers to support each other.

 

7.12   In response to a query, it was clarified that 3 foster carers had left the service because of dissatisfaction with the requirement to complete training and recordings for the children. No apologies were made for this requirement given the importance of ensuring foster carers were effectively able to provide care to the most vulnerable young people.

 

7.13   In response to a query relating to pay, it was felt that the Council paid its foster carers fairly and generously, and allowances were increased yearly in line with DfE recommendations. Foster carers had also received a one-off cost of living payment last year.

 

7.14   One member queried what could be done to further encourage people to be become foster carers. The  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.

8.

Recommendation for a digitised system

To receive a verbal update on the Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s recommendation for a digitised system.

Minutes:

8.1      Cllr Dr Miller rejoined the meeting as Chair.

 

8.2      Cllr Stephen Davies, Cabinet Member for Children’s Safeguarding and Early Years, provided a verbal update on progress with the Committee’s recommendation for a digitised system.

 

8.3      It was noted that at its meeting in October 2023, the Committee had recommended the creation of a digitised information sharing system which would identify vulnerable children and highlight those who could be at risk of child sexual exploitation.

 

8.4      Cllr Davies explained that work to stabilise and secure the Council’s ICT network had largely been completed, so there was now the opportunity to implement improvements for Children’s Services.

 

8.5      Plans to establish a Digital Programme Board were being considered, which would primarily be aimed at Children’s Services, however, would address appropriate linkages with Adult Services. 

 

8.6      Objectives for digital transformation included improving efficiency through better information sharing and providing more access to management and performance information. This would result in data driven decision making and would provide a single view of the child. This should include other partners, especially the Police and NHS, and would save time in transferring and cross-referencing data.

 

8.7      The need for digital improvement had been recognised by the recent Joint Targeted Area Inspection (JTAI) of the multi-agency response to children and their families who need help, and the peer group challenge. Four areas for further development had been identified. These included digital information sharing and use of data analytics; the redesign and bringing together of children’s systems; data driven decision making and performance management; and the use of intelligence to drive efficiencies and improve the customer experience.

 

8.8      Members were informed that Liquid Logic had invited the Council to join them in revising and improving its system. The DfE had also initiated a project to consider system use in children’s services, to which the Council would have input.

 

8.9      Next steps included the establishment of a workshop with IT colleagues to scope what was needed for digital transformation, as well as the establishment of the Digital Programme Board.

 

8.10   It was requested that an update on the digital transformation programme be added to the Committee’s work plan for consideration at a future meeting.

 

ACTION – Laura Powick/ Ann James

 

8.11   It was confirmed, following a query, that members would be involved in the digital transformation programme at a later stage.

9.

Gloucestershire's Schools' Outcomes Report 2023 pdf icon PDF 190 KB

To note a report on Gloucestershire schools’ assessment and exams outcomes.

Minutes:

9.1      Kirsten Harrison presented the Gloucestershire Schools’ Outcomes Report 2023.

 

9.2      Early Years performance had been improving since 2019 and was now above national, with the gap relating to SEND, FSM and ethnic minorities reducing.

 

9.3      Data for Key Stage 2 provided a more mixed picture. There was overall improvement for Reading in the County in comparison to national figures, however figures in Gloucestershire for Writing and Maths remained below national. 

 

9.4      Members were informed that a research school had been established at Rowanfield, where partners would work to identify and target work to reduce the disadvantaged gap in outcomes, working with the Education Endowment Foundation.

 

9.5      The Key Stage 4 performance was positive and showing improvement in all key messages above the southwest and national.

 

9.6      It was clarified that there were no LA required reporting arrangements for A Level results.

 

9.7      Clarification was also provided as to the reasons for the gaps in outcomes for primary aged children.

10.

Work Plan pdf icon PDF 69 KB

To review the committee work plan and suggest items for consideration at future meetings.

 

When making suggestions, members should consider the reasons for and expected benefit of, scrutiny’s involvement.

 

For reference, please find the link to the Cabinet forward plan below:

 

Forthcoming Decisions (gloucestershire.gov.uk)

Minutes:

10.1   The following items would be added to the work plan for consideration by the Committee:

-  An update on the recommendations from the Local Area SEND Inspection, the Hartwood House inspection, and JTAI inspection to be considered at the March 2024 meeting.

-  The item on youth work in Gloucestershire to be delayed to the May 2024 meeting.

-  A report on kinship caring and special guardianship orders, and the support available, to be brought to the July 2024 meeting.

-  The Annual Safeguarding Report to be included on the agenda for the November 2024 meeting.

-  A report on school admissions and where there were challenging hotspots would be presented at the May 2024 meeting.

 

ACTION – Laura Powick

 

10.2   Officers would confirm whether data existed on the support available for families arriving in the County that did not fit within specific refugee categories.

 

ACTION – Ann James

 

10.3   An item on the EDGE review to be included on the work plan under future items, with officers to confirm the best time for the item to be considered by the Committee.

 

ACTION – Laura Powick/ Ann James

 

10.4   It was noted that the current Ambassador for Vulnerable Children and Young People would be leaving their role in June. Another person would be assuming the role and would be attending the Committee in their place.

 

 

 

 

11.

Future Meetings

To note the dates of future meetings (all meetings to start at 10am):

 

7th March 2024

16th May 2024

18th July 2024

12th September 2024

7th November 2024

Minutes:

11.1   The Committee noted the dates of future meetings.