Agenda and draft minutes

Children's Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Wednesday, 1st December, 2021 7.00 pm

Venue: Training Room, The Beehive Community Resource Centre, West Street, Grays, RM17 6XP

Contact: Lucy Tricker, Senior Democratic Services Officer  Email: Direct.Democracy@thurrock.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

31.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 327 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting held on 12 October 2021.

Minutes:

The Chair highlighted page six of the minutes and stated that she had specifically requested a RAG rated action plan on the LSCP recommendations. She added that she had also proposed additional recommendations to both the report on Children’s Services Savings – Education and Skills, and the report on Proposed Budget Reductions for Children’s Social Care and Early Help, and requested that these be added to the minutes in bold.

Subject to these amendments, the minutes of the meeting held on 12 October 2021 were approved as true and correct record.

32.

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. To agree any relevant briefing notes submitted to the Committee.

Minutes:

The Chair stated that she had one item of urgent business that she wished to raise, which related to the nurseries consultation that had recently finished. The Assistant Director Education and Skills explained that a briefing note had been sent to the Committee, and would form part of the report that would be submitted to Cabinet in January.

The Chair felt that a good number of responses had been submitted to the consultation, as almost 300 responses had been received. She questioned if the consultation had been digital only. The Assistant Director Education and Skills replied that it had been mostly digital, but paper copies had been supplied to the relevant affected services. The Chair highlighted that 96% of respondents had felt that access to local nursery placements was either important or very important. The Chair stated that the Committee had seen a Childcare Sufficiency Report that evidenced a lack of childcare places in Tilbury St Chads, before the potential closure of these nurseries and the loss of another 126 places. The Assistant Director Education and Skills replied that there were a small proportion of schools and the rest were local nurseries, but that she did not have these numbers to hand, but would find this information and report back to the Chair. The Chair questioned if there would be enough time between January Cabinet and the potential closure in March to find an alternative provider. She explained that to her knowledge there was only one other local nursery in Tilbury St Chads. The Assistant Director Education and Skills replied that both nurseries discussed in the report would remain open until August, but initial interest had been received for when the procurement process began in January. She added that feedback had also been received from other providers that more placements could be opened if necessary. The Chair welcomed the news that the nurseries would stay open until August. The Corporate Director Children’s Services added that it was difficult to gauge the level of interest until Cabinet gave approval for the procurement process to proceed at January’s Cabinet meeting. She explained that the team would then go to market for the procurement of the nurseries and feedback would be given to the Committee during this process.

Councillor Thandi questioned if initial interest in the procurement of the nurseries had been strong. The Corporate Director Children’s Services replied that it was difficult to say but there had been an indication of initial interest, and the team were hopeful that this would be developed once the full procurement pack had been released. The Committee agreed the briefing note.

33.

Declaration of Interests

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest.

34.

Youth Cabinet Verbal Update

Minutes:

The Youth Cabinet Representative stated that the Youth Cabinet had been holding monthly meetings, and had been focussing on three main projects. She explained that these projects were: pollution and recycling, particularly promoting the idea of plastics recycling to pre-school children by creating a sculpture made out of waste plastic; mental health; and working with the police to create a YouTube video. The Youth Support Worker added that Essex Police had been working well with the Youth Cabinet to produce this video.

Councillor Kent questioned how the Youth Cabinet had met during COVID-19. The Youth Cabinet Representative replied that they had been meeting monthly via Zoom, but had also been holding regular Zoom activity evenings, taking part in online quizzes and making friends. She added that the waste plastics sculpture had been delayed due to the pandemic, but Youth Cabinet were hopeful that this could begin in the New Year.

35.

Items Raised by Thurrock Local Safeguarding Children Partnership - Verbal Update

Minutes:

The Chair highlighted that she had requested a RAG rated action plan report be brought to this Committee meeting, and requested that a written report, with the RAG plan included, be brought to February’s Committee meeting.

The Independent Chair and Scrutineer Thurrock LSCP introduced the report and stated that she had recently been chosen for the role, and would be focussing on the future of scrutiny and safeguarding in terms of children. She stated that Sir Alan Wood had carried out a national review of Local Safeguarding Childrens Boards four years ago, and from this LSCPs had been developed, and had been enshrined in legislation in 2017. She explained that this legislation made the local authority, the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), and the police equally responsible for child safeguarding, and the LSCP had an overarching role to co-ordinate safeguarding in the area and implement learning from serious case reviews. She added that Thurrock’s LSCP had a constitution that enshrined these principles, and helped to hold partners to account. She stated that Thurrock’s LSCP were currently working on: early identification of vulnerability; increased learning within the partnerships to ensure learning was embedded and changes could be made when required; and ensuring information was shared effectively.

She explained that Thurrock’s peer review last year had highlighted the need for scrutiny and governance, which was why she had been appointed into the role. She stated that she would be reviewing the arrangements for broader scrutiny aiming for it to be objective and a critical friend. She explained that the peer review had driven actions to support Thurrock’s scrutiny, particularly through the increased use of Key Performance Indications (KPIs) and improved multi-agency partnerships, such as with the police, health colleagues, and schools. She added that additional quality assurance had been implemented, such as multi-agency audits from the LSCP. She summarised and stated that the LSCP could provide safeguarding assurance information to Committee Members, and a report would be brought to Committee next year which would outline their upcoming priorities.

The Safeguarding and Children’s Manager stated that there were four reviews and one peer review action plan currently underway. She stated that these were:

1. Frankie – 14 actions identified (11 blue and 3 amber)
2. Sam and Kyle – 18 actions identified (16 blue and 2 amber)
3. Leo – 14 actions identified (1 blue, 4 green, and 9 amber)
4. Shay and Ashley – learning published but not yet ratified through governance processes.

She explained that blue actions meant the work had been embedded into the service; green meant complete but not yet embedded; and amber meant work had been started but not yet completed. She added that the peer review had identified 26 actions, 23 of which were now blue and 3 of which were amber.

The Safeguarding and Children’s Manager added that the reviews had identified four overarching themes of: information sharing; professional curiosity; thresholds and escalations; and working with resistance. She stated that lots of work was ongoing on these  ...  view the full minutes text for item 35.

36.

Fees and Charges Pricing Strategy 2022-23 pdf icon PDF 393 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Assistant Director Education and Skills introduced the report and stated that it was presented before the Committee on an annual basis. She highlighted the charge that related to Grangewaters which had increased by 64% and explained that this was because it was an activity that required the whole lake and staff onsite to manage. She explained that previously this had been undertaken by volunteers or by holding other activities that required onsite staff at the same time, but this was no longer feasible. She summarised and stated that the team tested the market for fees and charges, and the proposals would be implemented in April, if agreed by Cabinet.

Councillor Kent highlighted the increase of 64% at Grangewaters, and asked if this was for the Water-ski and Jet-Ski Club, and if any consultation had been undertaken with them. The Assistant Director Education and Skills replied that conversations had been ongoing throughout the season, as they used the whole lake and it had been difficult to identify space for them. She explained that there were no volunteers identified in future, so staff costs would increase. She stated that the Club had felt disappointed that there had been no space for them this year, but the team would continue to work closely with them in future. Councillor Anderson questioned how the overall pricing of Grangewaters related to the national average. The Assistant Director Education and Skills answered that pricing at Grangewaters was lower than the national average, but Grangewaters followed a different pricing strategy as it was aimed for local community use.

The Chair stated that over 50% of the fees and charges increases outlined in the report were above inflation. She asked if any consultation had been undertaken for these increases. The Assistant Director Education and Skills replied that some of the fees and charges had only been increased by approximately £1 above inflation, and this was low when compared to the national average. She stated that the team had spoken with services and service users before proposing an increase in fees and charges. The Chair questioned why the commercial rate hall charge had been removed. The Assistant Director Education and Skills responded that this related to the Thurrock Adult Community College building, which was not in operation. She stated that the removal of fees and charges relating to Grangewaters had been to simplify and streamline the system.

Councillor Kent questioned the approval process for the report. The Assistant Director Education and Skills explained that the report would go to February’s Cabinet meeting for their sign off. Councillor Kent stated that he would not agree to give director delegated authority to change the fees and charges in year, and felt that this should have some Member oversight, for example in consultation with the relevant Portfolio Holder. Councillor Anderson questioned if the recommendation relating to director delegated authority had been previously included in fees and charges reports. He also questioned how regularly director delegated authority was utilised. The Assistant Director Education  ...  view the full minutes text for item 36.

37.

Impact of COVID-19 on Education and Children's Social Care pdf icon PDF 711 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Assistant Director Education and Skills introduced the report and stated that a previous report presented to the Committee in July had requested data on attainment, but explained that this was currently not available. She stated that therefore this report outlined how the service was supporting children on a holistic level. She stated that a survey had been sent out to schools to collect this information, and the completed report had been sent back to schools for their information. She added that it was also good to hear that the Youth Cabinet were undertaking work relating to mental health, as this was a concern within the service.

The Assistant Director Education and Skills stated that the main elements of the report related to the socialisation of children, particularly those children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), as children required socialisation with their peers that they did not necessarily receive during the pandemic. She stated that some children had enjoyed isolation, whereas others had not, so the report highlighted a mixed individual picture. She explained that work was being undertaken to support children’s socialisation and consultation had been undertaken during the pandemic to find out what schools needed. She commented that from this consultation the team had set up ‘The Hangout’ and ‘The Junior Hangout’ to improve children’s socialisation.

The Assistant Director Education and Skills stated that the pandemic had also had an impact on children’s learning, as schools had reported that children had lower stamina and resilience for learning. She highlighted that the School’s Forum had also reported increased speech and language problems among the EYFS cohort, which could lead to an increased number of Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) in the future. She stated that the team were therefore working closely with schools to ensure teachers and other professionals were working with children experiencing speech and language difficulties.

The Assistant Director Education and Skills added that the team were also seeing challenges amongst Year 11 pupils in schools, but highlighted that the government was still planning for exams to take place next summer, but this was dependent on a number of factors including the new Omicron variant. She clarified that schools were still experiencing problems relating to COVID-19 as some schools were seeing significant outbreaks, and children and staff were having to self-isolate, so the team were working to mitigate these challenges. She stated that attendance was currently 90% which was lower than pre-COVID levels, but in line with the national average. 

The Assistant Director Children’s Social Care (CSC) and Early Help added that the team had now moved to business as usual, with 98% of contact happening face-to-face, with remote contact only occurring as an exception after being risk assessed. She explained that the team were also using hybrid working, with some people in the office and some people working from home. She added that the courts had also decided to maintain a hybrid system, with the majority of court proceedings occurring via video, and only  ...  view the full minutes text for item 37.

38.

Pupil Place Plan Update (2021-2025) pdf icon PDF 238 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Service Manager Education and Support Service introduced the report and stated that it was produced for Committee on an annual basis and provided the key highlights of the PPP. She explained that birth rates had hit a record high in 2015/16, but had reduced by 7% in 2020, which could leave surplus places in schools in five years’ time. She stated that the PPP allowed the team to think strategically about capital works, such as where to place bulge classes, and which schools to work with for additional places. She stated that all schools were consulted on the PPP and when finding additional placements as required. The Service Manager Education and Support Service stated that the team currently had concerns regarding capacity in Stanford-le-Hope and Corringham, which she hoped would be rectified by Abbots Hall Primary becoming a two form entry. She stated that the team also had concern regarding capacity in Tilbury and talks were underway with both the Gateway Free School and Tilbury Pioneer Academy regarding additional placements. She stated that the team considered the PPP regularly at monthly meetings and were currently considering Year 1 placements following the high birth rates in 2015/16. She mentioned that there had been over 4000 in-year applications received for primary and secondary school placements, due to families moving to England, moving to Thurrock, or requesting different school placements. She explained that approximately 2000 places had been offered, and explained that not all 4000 requests had been offered a place due to factors such as parents not moving to Thurrock after they had requested a place. She explained that both Thames Park Academy and Orsett Heath Academy were currently in temporary locations, with Thames Park Academy scheduled to move to their permanent location in September 2022 and Orsett Heath Academy scheduled to move to their permanent location in Easter 2023. She explained that Treetops School had recently accepted additional classroom space, so would be moving to their permanent location in Easter 2022.

The Parent Governor Representative asked if bulge classes could be removed once they were added. The Service Manager Education and Support Service replied that bulge classes were applied to a particular cohort, and the bulge class would remain until that cohort had left the school. The Parent Governor Representative then asked if some schools were oversubscribed. The Service Manager Education and Support Service replied that those areas marked in red in the report were areas of concern, such as Stanford-le-Hope, Corringham and Tilbury, but these were monitored monthly alongside in-year applications. Councillor Kent welcomed the report as he felt the PPP led to proactive decisions and was comprehensive. He questioned point 3 on page 77 of the agenda, and queried if parents had a choice in school places, and if not, if the report could be reflected to amend this. The Assistant Director Education and Skills replied that parents could only express a preference rather than having a choice and this would be removed.  

RESOLVED: That the Committee:

1.  ...  view the full minutes text for item 38.

39.

SEND Inspection Outcome - Written Statement of Action Update pdf icon PDF 281 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Assistant Director Education and Skills introduced the report and stated that Ofsted would be revisiting Thurrock in relation to the WSoA in December, and would be on site between 13 and 15 December. She explained that all relevant documents would be submitted to Ofsted by their deadline, which would identify how actions within the WSoA had been addressed. She explained that Thurrock needed to show sufficient progress on the recommendations, and the key document would be the Impact Statement which had come before Committee. She added that Ofsted had previously identified action regarding governance and scrutiny, and felt that the Committee had taken their role of scrutiny seriously. She mentioned that this a revisit rather than a re-inspection, and Ofsted would be talking to schools, health colleagues, young people, parents, Directors and Senior Managers. She summarised and stated that the RAG rated document provided for Committee would form part of the evidence submitted to Ofsted.

The Corporate Director Children’s Services added that the team had worked hard since the last inspection two years ago, and had worked collaboratively with colleagues from health and education. She stated that there was as large agenda for Ofsted’s onsite visit, although some meetings with parents and young people would be held virtually. She explained that both the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and Ofsted would be visiting and their findings would be presented in a progress letter next year. The Assistant Director Education and Skills added that as part of the local offer, SEND children had been asked to design a mascot, which had been judged by the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Committee. She felt that the team had been undertaking lots of engagement work and the evidence of this would be presented to Ofsted.

The Chair thanked officers for the report and wished them luck on the re-visit. She added that choosing a winner for the mascot competition had been difficult, and thanked everyone for their hard work on the entries. She felt glad to see that the majority of recommendations were now blue or green RAG rated. Councillor Anderson echoed the Chair’s comments and thanked the team for their hard work, as well as wishing them luck for the upcoming visit.

RESOLVED: That the Committee:

1. Scrutinised the work that has been undertaken during the period outlined in the report and offered support and challenge.

40.

Update on the Progress of the Recommendations in the Annual Public Health Report of Serious Youth Violence and Vulnerability pdf icon PDF 300 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Director of Public Health joined the meeting at 8.45pm.

The Director of Public Health introduced the report and stated that it had been completed by the previous Director of Public Health in 2019/20 and since then the Violence and Vulnerability Board (VVB), which had been set up in the summer, had begun working to take forward the recommendations. She stated that the VVB had held two meetings so far, which had established governance processes and the future work programme, ensuring that they added value and did not duplicate work. She stated that direct action had been undertaken with the perpetrators and victims of youth violence, and areas of further work had been identified, such as exclusions. She stated that the report had identified four areas of work, and the VVB had added a fifth area regarding raising awareness. She explained that the four areas were:

1. Surveillance, which was mainly undertaken by the police, and information was then pulled together by the public health team. There had been some progress in this area, but the team had had difficulty in recruiting an experienced data analyst. A data analyst had now started this week who would develop a predictive model of violence.
2. Primary prevention, which improved protective factors and reduced risk through work with parents and schools.
3. Secondary prevention, which included youth outreach work in schools.
4. Tertiary prevention, which reduced harm and took action on gangs.

The Director of Public Health stated that a number of projects were being developed and provided a comprehensive programme.

The Chair thanked the Director of Public Health for the comprehensive report and asked for clarification regarding the levels of prevention. The Director of Public Health explained that the levels of prevention were developed using a public health model, and gave the example in a public health setting that primary prevention considered increasing physical activity; secondary prevention considered treatment by the GP; and tertiary prevention considered treatment at hospital to prevent further adverse outcomes. The Assistant Director Education and Skills added that the VVB had links across Essex and had received funding for the Olive Academy to undertake outreach work for children at risk of permanent exclusion. She stated that this funding, and other funding avenues, were a direct result of the report.

Councillor Kent stated that this approach had first been undertaken in Glasgow, which had seen long term investment. He queried if the Council were committed to the approach in the long term, and if any tangible outcomes had been seen so far. The Director of Public Health replied that the Council was committed to the long term approach, and would start to see the benefits in five to ten years. She stated that the Council were also committed to ensuring the entire system and a range of organisations remained committed. She stated that lots of work was ongoing, for example the multiagency operation to tackle gangs in Thurrock, so it was difficult to determine which outcomes were the result  ...  view the full minutes text for item 40.

41.

Work Programme pdf icon PDF 230 KB

Minutes:

The Work Programme was amended as follows:

1. An update on the Ofsted re-visit be provided to the Committee.
2. The report on the impact of COVID-19 would be removed.
3. The report on Inspire would be provided to the Committee as a briefing note.