Agenda and minutes

Children's Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Tuesday, 10th October, 2017 7.00 pm

Venue: Committee Room 1, Civic Offices, New Road, Grays, Essex, RM17 6SL. View directions

Contact: Wendy Le, Democratic Services Officer  Email:

No. Item


Minutes pdf icon PDF 74 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting held on 11 July 2017.


The minutes of Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting held on 11 July 2017 were approved as a correct record.


Items of Urgent Business

To receive additional items that the Chair is of the opinion should be considered as a matter of urgency, in accordance with Section 100B (4) (b) of the Local Government Act 1972.


There were no items of urgent business.


Declaration of Interests


The Parent Governor Representative (PGR), Myra Potter, declared a non-pecuniary interest that she worked at Palmer’s College and had children who attended Gable Hall Academy and Little Thurrock Primary School.


Items Raised by Thurrock Local Safeguarding Children Board pdf icon PDF 184 KB

This item is reserved to discuss any issues raised by the Thurrock Local Safeguarding Children Board.


There were no representatives from the Thurrock Local Safeguarding Children Board in attendance so no update was provided. The Chair asked the Director of Children’s Services (DCS), Rory Patterson, that a representative be present at the next meeting on 12 December 2017 to give an update.


Youth Cabinet Update


The Youth Cabinet Representative (YCR), George Wright, stated that with October being democracy month, it was also the end of the ‘Make Your Mark’ consultation which was the national drive of the British Youth Parliament. It was a chance for 11 – 19 year olds to vote on issues that were important to them from a list of ten issues selected by them at a youth conference over the summer. This year had seen the best turnout for Thurrock yet with over 7,500 turnout to vote which was about 50% of the young people in the borough and a 100% increase from the previous year. The Youth Cabinet were in the process of counting up the most voted on topic for the year which would most likely be the Curriculum for Life or the funding for children’s services based on previous years.


The results of the consultation would shape what the Youth Cabinet would be promoting over the coming months. The Curriculum for Life pledge had been stepped up which aimed to promote issues schools did not teach such as finance, sex and relationships. It would also help to shape the Youth Conference that was coming up on 8 December 2017 (to be confirmed) which the Youth Cabinet extended an invitation to all Members in which he hoped to see many of them attending. Schools and colleges would also be invited where students would attend workshops surrounding issues such as drugs, gang crime, Curriculum for Life and the number one issue in Thurrock once that had been confirmed through the consultation. There would be guest speakers which the Youth Cabinet were in the process of planning.


The Youth Cabinet was currently underrepresented in schools as they had lost some representatives from schools over the summer. To show more representation, they would need to go back into their own schools to acquire representatives.


Councillor Redsell noted that the same issues kept arising such as life skills and money issues. She queried whether schools were taking these issues on board. A lot of schools taught citizenship as a selective subject and the Curriculum for Life had been on the Youth Cabinet’s agenda for the last three years. Schools had signed up to this pledge but it seemed they were not sticking to this pledge so the Youth Cabinet would need to go back to find out why. It could be down to resources or lack of interest but students should be learning life skills that were not gained from Google. The Youth Cabinet intended to find out what schools were providing.


Councillor Collins asked what the Curriculum for Life pledge included. This covered a broad range of topics and was not yet defined. It was left to the local Youth Cabinet to define and decide what topics to include e.g. finances, life skills, University applications etc. Some schools offered this to all year groups and some would offer this to targeted year groups. The Youth Cabinet would need to first establish what  ...  view the full minutes text for item 57.


2016/17 Annual Complaints and Representations Report pdf icon PDF 64 KB

Additional documents:


The Statutory & Corporate Complaints Manager (SCCM), Tina Martin, presented the report which highlighted the number of complaints and representations received in the year. There was a three stage process to complaints but the aim was to resolve these swiftly in the first stage. There had been 62 compliments in the reported year. The report also showed the key issues of these complaints and what the service departments could learn from them as it was important to enable the Council to improve services.


The Chair noted compliments had reduced from the previous reported year of 2015/16 and asked what could be done to increase the number of compliments. The SCCM felt there were more compliments but they were not being logged. She intended to speak with the service departments to remind them of the procedure to log compliments as well as complaints.


Councillor Collins referred to the 79% of responses on Members enquiries within the timeframe for the reported year of 2015/16 on page 24 of the agenda and questioned why the other 21% had not been responded to on time. He asked if that had been due to complexity or other reasons. The timeframe for this was shorter and it was not always possible to provide a comprehensive response within the timeframe given. To do so would compromise on the quality of the response. Councillor Collins went on to say it could sometimes take a while to sort through files and find the right answer which could be quite complex. He praised the work the service departments had done and encouraged them to keep up the good work.


Councillor Redsell echoed the Chair’s earlier comments regarding the reduction of compliments and asked whether it could be down to people not phoning in to give the compliments. This was reliant on Officers and staff to send the compliments to the generic mailbox that had been set up specifically for compliments to enable them to be logged. The SCCM aimed to address this through a discussion with the service departments to ensure this was being done.


Councillor Redsell referred to the 94 completed complaints at stage one on page 21 of the agenda and noted that out of the 94, two got to stage two and one to stage three. She sought clarification on what happened to the other 91 remaining complaints in stage one. The SCCM explained that those at stage one were not upheld or resolved as the complainant was happy with the outcome. The service departments were also introducing alternative dispute resolution (ADR) whereby if the complainant decided they were not happy after all, a three way meeting would be set up to try to resolve the complaint before escalating to the next stage. This had been working well so far.


The Vice-Chair commented on the root causes of complaints on page 22 of the agenda which he could see a correlation on why people complained. He also commented on the striking amount of complaints that were not upheld  ...  view the full minutes text for item 58.


Schools Performance pdf icon PDF 174 KB

Additional documents:


The report was presented by the Officer for Interim Strategic Leader School Improvement, Learning and Skills (ISLSILS), Roger Edwardson, which showed comparisons of expected standards of learning shown in charts and tables for the stages of Early Years Foundation, Year 1 Phonics, Key Stage 1, Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4. These compared the results of Thurrock to the national average in which key stage 1’s results for Thurrock was above the national average. Reading, Writing and Maths combined for the expected standards of key stage 2 showed Thurrock was in line with the national average but the graph under the Two Year trends section on page 35 of the agenda showed the Reading to Greater Depth Standard (GDS) data had a lower outcome than the national average.


The report was unable to show a comparison of Thurrock to the national average for GCSEs as the national data had not yet been released. The Officer for ISLSILS planned to bring this data back to the Committee once it was released. On another note, out of the 23 children in care entered into GCSEs, eight had passed. The Officer for ISLSILS stated that raising achievement in all areas of education remained a key priority.


Councillor Redsell noted the key stage 1 graph for GDS on page 33 of the agenda revealed low outcomes for Thurrock. The Officer for ISLSILS agreed the outcomes were low and that Maths had been a challenge. Councillor Redsell went on to query the reading outcome and whether this was down to children not reading enough or on the computer too much. Reading was assessed through tests and the quality was not good. The test was probably done on computers.


Councillor Redsell also questioned if reading was better in boys or girls. The Officer for ISLSILS replied that girls did better in reading. Councillor Redsell went on to comment that it was not always down to schools to teach. It was also down to parents to teach their children by reading to them as it would help with spelling and grammar.


Councillor Sheridan mentioned that as the GCSE grading was now numbered as opposed to its previous alphabetised grading, it was probably more difficult to grade for teachers. She anticipated that next year’s performance should be better as teachers should be more confident. She would be interested to hear back the progress on the 11 – 16 year olds. She went on to agree with Councillor Redsell’s comments and thought boys tended to have a lack of concentration at first and later on, had better concentration. Regarding reading, she said children would tend to read more as they got older as they would be able to choose their own books to read. The Officer for ISLSILS agreed and felt that the change to end of year assessments only, had probably benefitted girls more than boys.


Referring to page 37 of the agenda, Councillor Collins noted that there had been some good pass rates for A  ...  view the full minutes text for item 59.


Peer Review Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Support across the Local Area pdf icon PDF 83 KB

Additional documents:


The Officer for Strategic Lead Inclusion / Principal Educational Psychologist (SLI / PEP), Malcolm Taylor, provided an overview of the results of the Regional Peer Review of the current support offered for children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). This was based on a team of colleagues from Cambridgeshire, Bedford Borough, Southend and Peterborough Local Authorities. A high level action plan summary with expected timeframes of completion was drawn up from the results which included:


  • Developing a Governance Plan to be approved by SEND Strategic Board;
  • Producing an overarching Local Area SEND plan with parents representative groups; and
  • To actively recruit additional members as part of the Parent Carer Forum development plan.


Councillor Collins questioned why there had been a change from 18 to 25 year olds. The Officer for SLI / PEP explained that the previous age had been 19 but only a small number of those people were attending a sixth form or a special school. Those who had left the special school or college had a LDA assessment which led to the identification that these were of a much lower level. So now that age would go up to 25 if the person was in receipt of educational training. Councillor Collins went on to query the type of training. This could include formal courses at local colleges, foundation skills courses or some might be programmes towards independence and any that would count as learning difficulties as they would be able to continue on the health care plans (HCP). There were some young people who had continued to stay in special schools up to the age of 18 and they would remain on the HCP. It was still early days but there were few specialist placement colleges that had a range of programmes suitable for young people including those with visual impairment and could offer support through a plan. Councillor Collins went on to ask what the cost impact was. There was an increase on high needs funding although it was separated amongst each specialty, the costs came out from one pot. More young people were accessing that support and the Officer for SLI / PEP would be reviewing the fund with the finance team to discuss the impact this had on the fund.


Councillor Redsell mentioned that as the Pupil Referral Unit in South Ockendon had been shut down, she sought clarification on whether this was still going to Tilbury. The Officer for SLI / PEP confirmed the Olive Alternative Provision Academy would be based on the old Jack Lobley site as planned. An official opening was yet to happen but pupils were already in the building working on a range of programmes and for a monitoring visit from Ofsted. The unit was now a secondary unit and no longer a primary Pupil Referral Unit as it had been before. This would be facilitated through other arrangements which the department was working on with other primary schools. Councillor Redsell asked if these plans  ...  view the full minutes text for item 60.


Children's Social Care Performance pdf icon PDF 145 KB


The DCS stated the importance of informing Members on the performance of Children’s Services. He outlined the report which highlighted the high level of demand placed on Thurrock’s statutory social care service for children. A badly run social care system would face the consequences of potentially being taken over by the Government and having to form a Trust. The service needed more permanent social workers to manage the volume of work to address the level of demand. The department was also focussing on recruiting more foster carers so that children could be looked after by Thurrock’s own foster carers.


Councillor Redsell questioned the number of people leaving and coming into social care work. She followed on with another question regarding Children Looked After (CLA) from other local authorities (LA) in private homes within Thurrock. Other LAs could place their CLA in private homes within Thurrock but they were responsible for the CLA and had to notify us of the CLA in the private homes within Thurrock. This placed pressure on services within Thurrock as CLA would attend our schools, use the GPs etc. There had been no figures on staff turnover in social care but it should be low. The Children’s Services department were doing well in recruiting and retaining staff as they were quite competitive in quality, training and safety. The DCS would be able to get the actual figures in staff turnover for social care.


Councillor Collins sought clarification on the number of unaccompanied asylum seekers mentioned in the report for CLA. There were 38 and this figure was a comparison out of 318. Councillor Collins went on to ask what the average ages were for missing children. The Assistant Director for Children’s Services and Targeted Outcomes (ADCSTO), Sheila Murphy, said the average age was 15 – 16 but there were some 17 year olds who would go missing. Very few younger children tended to go missing. Councillor Collins further asked whether they were found again. Most were found quickly in a short space of time and those found the next day were often at parties, with family members or other places they had not been given permission to go to. There was currently a 16 year old girl who had been missing for four months and was being tracked through her social media and phone records. The police were involved in trying to locate her but had not found her yet. There were procedures in place regarding missing children and the department also had regular strategic meetings with the police. Once the girl was found, the plan was to put her in a welfare secure home to ensure she did not run away again.


The Vice-Chair expressed concern over the missing girl and hoped that she would be found soon. Regarding the referral figures on page 73 of the agenda, he said it was an improvement but asked if these figures were currently standing still. The Officer for Strategic Lead, Performance Quality and Business Intelligence (SLPQBI), Iqbal  ...  view the full minutes text for item 61.


Ofsted Inspection Action Plan - Update pdf icon PDF 76 KB

Additional documents:


The DCS provided an update to the Ofsted Inspection Action Plan report which followed on from the recommendations of the Ofsted Report. There was a reduction in agency staff and the department had vacant posts that they were looking to recruit into. The workforce was getting more stable and there was a rolling programme of recruitment. The department aimed to bring in more foster carers so that children could be placed locally. More regular audits would also be carried out with social workers to ensure processes were running smoothly.


The PGR questioned why the recruitment drive for foster carers was taking place in Grays town centre when there were not many people who would go there. She thought a better location would be Lakeside shopping centre as it was a busier location. The DCS agreed and would look into the location again.


Echoing this, Councillor Redsell also felt other areas such as Corringham could be used for the recruitment drive. She also hoped the instability in the workforce was improving. The DCS said there was an issue on resources which needed broadening. He agreed to take on board the advice of using other areas for the recruitment drive. Referring to Councillor Redsell’s workforce comment, he said the department was improving and they had been nominated for an award as well. He realised that social work was an ongoing process and could never be complacent with it. The ADCSTO also pointed out that the instability in the workforce within the report had been a reference to the position at the Ofsted inspection from 18 months ago.


Referring to the action plan in appendix one of the report, the CER asked if this plan was on track. The actions had to be implemented but it was never a done job. To keep on track, the department would need to keep revisiting and refreshing actions.


Councillor Sheridan questioned the rates of independent foster agencies (IFA) and whether these differed from the Council rates. IFAs received a higher rate for their placements and the IFA would also take a percentage of that fee, the total fee did not go straight to the foster carers they employed.


Councillor Redsell noted that some of the actions in the action plan were quite complicated. She asked what they were improving on if they were improving. The DCS stated that they would be producing a clearer version of the action plan.




1)    That the Committee consider the current progress and direction of travel in completing the required actions from the Ofsted Action Plan.


2)    That the Committee receive assurance that action plan continues to deliver the required improvement.



Work Programme pdf icon PDF 57 KB


Councillor Collins asked for an update to be provided on the missing girl.


The Members requested that the updates of the published data for GCSEs from the Schools Performance report to be brought back to the next committee on 12 December 2017.


The Members requested an update to the action plan discussed in the SEND report which would be brought back as a full review to the committee on 13 February 2018.