Agenda item

Report of the Cabinet Member for Education

Minutes:

Councillor Jefferies stated he was privileged to present his first portfolio holder report for education and some of the areas covered in this speech were:

·         Having taken up his role in February 2020, two months later the country had gone into lockdown due to the pandemic and would like to thank all teaching staff, teaching assistants, dinner ladies, care takers and everyone else who worked in Thurrock schools who ensured that children in Thurrock received their education and ensured that free school meals were provided in the Easter and Summer holidays for some of Thurrock’s most vulnerable children.

·         Due to the pandemic, he had been unable to visit schools and had begun a weekly zoom call with head teachers and CEOs for them to tell us how things were going in their schools.

·         That schools communicated regularly with their children and there had been some great examples of teachers engaging with their pupils.

·         That at the start of the lockdown, schools remained open for key worker children with the average number of 300 to 400 pupils per day and had dropped off to about 200 pupils a day at Easter.

·         That all schools should be commended as once the Government stated they could reopen, all the schools reacted positively and ensured that children returned as quickly and safely as possible.

·         Thanked the Education Team who had worked hard to ensure that support was provided for all the educational settings and specifically thanked Sheila Murphy, Director of Children’s Services, and Michelle Lucas, Assistant Director of Education, who had always been there to offer help, advice and guidance.

·         That 92% of primary schools were rated as good and 70% of secondary schools had been rated as good or better.

·         Last year had achieved 100% of 16 year olds having a place of learning and hope to reach that target this year.

·         As part of the Skills Summit had brought together South Essex Skills and Education portfolios and alongside officers to plan how they could work together to provide the skills and training to help rebuild the local economy.

·         Agreed that the Head of the Adult College to work closely with Opportunity South Essex so that the best assistance can be provided to all Thurrock residents who were looking for additional skills and qualifications.

·         In September 2020 a new independent travel training session was launched for post 16 year old SEND pupils to equip them to travel independently.

·         Had attended a grand opening of the new Thameside Academy and wished staff and pupils all the best for the future and looked forward to visiting Orsett Heath Academy shortly that also opened in September.

·         Concluded by recognising the outstanding work of the education providers from early years, schools, post 16 and adults and all that had been achieved in this unprecedented times. 

 

Councillor Okunade thanked the portfolio holder for this report and asked for his response to the issue of Thurrock children going hungry as a result of the Government’s recent refusal to fund free school meals in holidays. Councillor Jefferies stated that the Government had provided free school meals in the Easter and Summer periods when the schools were in lockdown and only open for key worker pupils. Now that the schools were open and residents were back at work it was only right that free schools meals were provided in term time. That the Government had put policies in place for those in need such as the increase of Universal Credit, increased local housing allowances and with Thurrock receiving £193,000 from Government it would be the intention to use this money to help struggling families to get hold of food and essentials. 

 

Councillor Okunade referred the portfolio holder to page 48 of the Agenda where the report had stated that “all children returned to school in September and the attendance had remained high” and questioned the number of elected home education of pupils due to parent’s concerns of the transmission of COVID in schools and asked the portfolio holder what he was doing in regards to these figures. Councillor Jefferies stated that head teachers and CEOs were doing everything to reassure parents that schools were safe for pupils to return with Thurrock way ahead of the number of pupils returning and had seen an increase since the schools had reopened.

 

Councillor Okunade referred to the National Funding Formula and school budgets and asked the portfolio holder for more information on the challenges of this funding. Councillor Jefferies stated he had nothing further to add unless there was something specific Councillor Okunade was referring to. Councillor Okunade stated the report had referred to challenges around high needs funding and questioned what these challenges were. Councillor Jefferies stated budgets were tight and that work would continue with schools to ensure they had the funding they need and this was something for the future to have conversations with schools to understand any issues and concerns and to work with them to resolve them.

 

Councillor Anderson asked what the long term plan would be for providing skills and re-education in the borough specifically looking beyond COVID. Councillor Jefferies stated that the Government had recently announced that every adult would have access to four years of funding post 18 and it was Thurrock’s intention to give to everyone to meet their own potential. Councillor Jefferies announced that it was the intention to move the Adult Education College from its inadequate building into classrooms and buildings fit for the 21st century.

 

Councillor J Kent echoed the comments made by Councillor Okunade and had seen the commitment and dedication of members of staff throughout Spring to ensure that schools could stay open for those children of key workers and then the hard work to ensure that schools could open more widely, safely and as normal as possible in September to ensure the best learning experience could be provided. Councillor J Kent stated he had been incredibly impressed with the work undertaken and all Members should take time to thank all those in schools. Councillor J Kent then referred to the issue of free school meals through the holidays and questioned the portfolio holder how he intended to spend the £193,000 to ensure that no child in Thurrock goes hungry during the school holidays. Councillor Jefferies stated it was not just about the £193,000 payment, the Government had increased the Universal Credit payment by £1000, local housing allowances increased to help residents pay their rent and aim to distribute the £193,000 to struggling families so that they can get hold of food and essentials.

 

Councillor Byrne questioned whether those Thurrock schools that were isolating whole years was the right thing to do when compared to what other local authority schools were doing. Councillor Jefferies stated he could not comment on other authorities but it would be down to each individual school and by following the right rules and regulations. Councillor Jefferies stated he had been impressed how the schools had handled this, sent home children when necessary and communicated well on social media and letters to parents and further stated that Thurrock schools were doing an amazing job.

 

Councillor Allen asked the portfolio holder to ensure that more mental health support was provided at Thurrock schools as it was imperative this was identified and early intervention was taking place. Councillor Jefferies agreed that the Council had to be more vigilant and stated the Council was taking this very seriously to have mental health facilities available and working with Councillor Halden to help, assist and offer advice to schools.

 

Councillor Muldowney referred to the news that the Government had used its COVID emergency powers to impose a new legal duty on schools to provide remote education and then some schools in Essex having the number of laptops that had been allocated to help deprived children being reduced by 80%. The portfolio holder was asked how this had affected schools in Thurrock and what steps the portfolio holder would undertake to ensure that no child fell behind in their education if they were unable to attend school. Councillor Jefferies stated he was unaware of any Thurrock school having any difficulties with laptops and was confident they had their allocations within that scheme and asked Councillor Muldowney if she had any specific examples of schools to let him know outside the meeting.

 

Councillor Redsell questioned whether the portfolio holder was satisfied that all was being done in the school environment to ensure that COVID rules were being followed. Councillor Jefferies stated that when schools were opened from June, they were asked to complete a risk assessment to see if pupils were the safest at school which then enabled the number of pupils able to return. As risk assessments were completed, the confidence of parents grew and by mid-July there were over 4000 pupils attending per day and from September all children had returned to school. Councillor Jefferies was confident that schools had followed all the rules and only when necessary and in the interests of safety, were children sent home and was confident that all Thurrock schools were following the guidelines.

 

Councillor Collins referred to the SEND and active travel paragraph in the portfolio report and asked for more details as to what the awards would be. Councillor Jefferies stated he was unsure what the awards were and would find out and report back to Councillor Collins.

 

Councillor Worrall questioned the portfolio holder about parking and speeding outside of schools and asked for his agreement that the safety of children outside of schools across the whole of the borough was very important. Councillor Worrall asked whether the portfolio holder would consider and support in implementing a working group to look at enforcing the 20mph outside schools and to ensure that parking restrictions are enforced. Councillor Jefferies wholly endorsed what Councillor Worrall stated that children’s safely was paramount and that there were more enforcement officers outside schools and when Members reported any issues those officers would be redirected to that area. That parking restrictions, speed signs, ramps and neon signs could be implemented around schools but took on board Councillor Worrall comments and the seriousness and would look into her suggestion and would respond.

 

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