Councillor Johnson thanked the Youth Cabinet Representative for her contributions to the Committee meetings.
Councillor Johnson outlined that the portfolio has two distinct parts Education and Skills and Children’s Social Care and Early Help. He confirmed that the Local Authority is still very involved with the Academy Schools. He stated that he was thankful for the fortnightly meetings with the Chief Executives of the Academy Schools. He confirmed that as Orsett cannot take 120 pupils this year work is being done to find alternative places in other schools. He also highlighted that the Home to School Transport was a challenging part of the portfolio and officers were working hard to reduce this spend. He urged members to become acquainted with the policy to help residents with any queries they may have on this. Councillor Johnson stated that it was vital vulnerable persons receive the same level of care and reminded the committee that all 49 members are Corporate Parents.
Councillor G Coxshall queried whether the Aveley School building was still on track.
Councillor Johnson responded that as far as he was aware September remained the expected opening date. He was aware the builders had fallen into disarray but he has not been told anything else.
Councillor Kerin noted that the Thurrock Adult Community College building had gone, he queried if it was still offering the same services.
The Assistant Director for Education and Skills responded that the Adult Community College were quick off the mark with the pandemic to develop online platforms and that has speeded that up. They are looking for a permanent home. Adult Education has changed over time, funding is around ensuring residents have the right skill set to enter employment as opposed to previously there been a focus on leisure. She confirmed they are looking at a teaching space and their aim is to start the new academic year in the new premises and an update on this will be provided at a future meeting.
Councillor Kerin noted that at the bottom of page 26 it referred to the option to reduce the amount of demand for EHCP’s, he requested reassurance that EHCP’s will be issued on account of need.
Councillor Johnson responded that it was necessary to check whether an EHCP is really necessary.
The Assistant Director of Education and Skills states that many Local Authorities had seen a large increase in requests for EHCP’s. This was expected as a result of the pandemic. It is right that a review takes place and a panel will review the decisions made. The Assistant Director of Education and Skills confirmed that most children are supported in school and get access to additional support and they are making sure schools manage the finance around this. The Assistant Director of Education and Skills reassured the Committee that any child that needs a plan will get a plan.
Councillor Kerin queried how many children were set to lose Home to School transport as a result of cuts.
The Assistant Director for Education and Skills clarified that they had a statutory duty to offer Home to School transport. There is a clear process and criteria, if parents apply and meet the criteria then the Local Authority has a duty to provide it. There is a very clear process for appeals too.
Councillor Anderson requested an update on Headstart Housing.
The Assistant Director of Education and Skills confirmed that this had been realigned with the Housing directorate and will therefore come under the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee now.
Councillor Anderson queried what work was being done to ensure we can absorb the additional pressure from the increase in Unaccompanied Children Asylum Seekers (UCAS).
The Assistant Director of Children’s Social Care and Early Help responded that they have spoken to foster carers to give them a better understanding of this. Most unaccompanied children asylum seekers are over 16 and therefore are offered supported accommodation as opposed to foster care. It depends on their age and needs to make sure they get the support they need to integrate in society. This Friday they are doing a presentation to Ofsted regarding this. They also provide bags with clothing, toiletries so the children feel safe and comfortable. The amount of missing episodes have reduced in Thurrock and therefore this Authority is not following the trend nationally with large amounts of missing episodes.
Councillor Panjala queried whether there is a lack of secondary schools in the area as there are 39 primary schools and just 13 secondary schools.
The Assistant Director of Education and Skills clarified that the secondary schools take a lot more pupils and that is why there is a substantial difference in the amount of secondary schools in the borough. She reassured the committee that there is enough capacity and this is something they look at on an almost daily basis as a lot of people are moving to Thurrock.
Councillor Kerin noted that savings of 4 million pounds are required over a period of 3 years, he queried what planning is being put in place to minimise the impact of this.
The Assistant Director of Education and Skills stated that they had already made some of these savings and she confirmed that they will always have to work within their statutory duties. The S114 is in place and decisions will be difficult.
The Assistant Director of Children’s Social Care and Early Help confirmed that they are trying to move services around and look at what can be done differently. Savings have been identified and are not necessarily about cutting services but about targeting services in the right area.
Councillor Kerin requested that further to receiving the briefing note on statutory duties he would like this subject to be brought to Committee in the next municipal year.
The Chair queried the figures for the increased numbers of foster carers.
The Assistant Director of Children’s Social Care and Early Help confirmed that recruitment continues but at the same time foster carers are also retiring or moving on.
The Chair noted that for social worker satisfaction Thurrock was surveyed as 12th nationally and second in the region.
The Assistant Director of Children’s Social Care and Early Help stated that they challenge themselves constantly to make sure they are providing the right environment for social workers and this includes manageable caseloads, regular supervision, opportunities to learn and ensuring social workers have a voice and feel empowered. It is a strong region for social care with no inadequate authorities. Ofsted feedback is it is a good culture and managers are working alongside social workers.