Agenda item

Education and Skills Operating Model


The Assistant Director Education and Skills introduced the report and stated that it had been requested by the Committee in October 2021 and outlined the new operating model for the education and skills team. She stated that the Council remained committed to skills training for people aged 0-99, including early years and adult learning. She stated that a review had been undertaken that had helped to realign the work done by the team, particularly since all schools bar one had become academies. She explained that as a new teaching hub had been opened at Harris Academy, some posts within the team had been removed as their function was now undertaken by the schools themselves, including governor development training.

The Assistant Director Education and Skills commented that the Council had also been looking at repetitive tasks, such as data entry, and how this could be effectively streamlined. She explained that the team had therefore merged SEND data systems, and this had been highlighted by Ofsted as good practice. She explained that the nurseries previously run by Thurrock Council were now out to procurement, which would finish in March. She added that recently the team had been focusing on children that were electively home educated (EHE), as following COVID approximately eighteen children had not returned to school for mental health and anxiety reasons. She explained that these children had all returned to school now, but highlighted that the team were factoring in the impact of COVID when meeting with pupils, particularly those year 11 pupils who would be taking their GCSEs this year.

The Assistant Director Education and Skills explained that the Education Support Service had been streamlined, as it was now under one strategic lead. She added that the Inspire programme was also continuing well, as it attracted significant external funding, and was currently in the middle of a programme regarding young people aged 16-25 that were not in employment, education or training (NEETs). She stated that currently the number of young people whose whereabouts in the system was unknown was zero, thanks to the hard work of the Inspire team. The Assistant Director Education and Skills explained that the adult community college was also under operating under a new model, as they had relocated to the South Essex College building and had mobilised their online learning platforms quickly at the start of the pandemic.

Councillor Anderson asked if the Council made contact with new EHE cases, and if a parent could be deemed unfit for home education. The Assistant Director Education and Skills replied that all EHE parents were met with and RAG rated. She added that if a parent was RAG rated red the team would encourage parents to consider other options for schooling, and would be continually monitored in partnership with the parent. She stated that during COVID the number of EHE parents had significantly increased, and robust processes had been put in place. She stated that there were local forums for EHE parents who supported each other, but EHE was not suitable for all families and routes back into formal education would be provided. Councillor Anderson felt it was good to see that the Council supported EHE as an option for parents, and that it was monitored and parents were engaged with.

The Parent Governor Representative questioned what measures were put in place to ensure home education was in line with the levels taught in schools and the general curriculum. The Corporate Director Children’s Services replied that there was little legislation regarding EHE, but changes to the legislation were a current priority for Ofsted. She explained that statutorily the Council had to undertake one visit per year to an EHE parent, but the team could not insist the parent was teaching the general curriculum. She felt it was a concern, both within Thurrock and nationally, that EHE children were not up to the average attainment levels for their age range. The Strategic Lead Employability and Skills added that the Inspire team worked closely with young people at risk of NEET, and explained that this year the Council had utilised career advisors to work with approximately twenty young people on an individual basis to discuss career advice, mental health and wellbeing.

Councillor Akinbohun questioned if there was a set curriculum for an EHE child. The Corporate Director Children’s Services explained that the parent of an EHE child chose what to teach and did not have to follow the curriculum. She added that the parent had to evidence that there was a form of education taking place to EHE officers. The Chair questioned the number of EHCPs within the borough and if this was above the national average. The Assistant Director Education and Skills replied that there were approximately 1800 children in Thurrock with an EHCP which was above the national average. She stated that the Council closely monitored the level of EHCP requests, particularly in early years’ cohorts due to the potential impact of COVID. She stated that the early years’ team had been working with children in early years’ who were at risk of an EHCP to determine if there was an actual need or if the child was experiencing difficulties due to lack of socialization and learning during the pandemic. The Chair highlighted that case workers under the new model had 150 cases, and questioned what the figure had been before. The Assistant Director Education and Skills replied that under the old model caseworkers had approximately 350 cases, but new staff had been employed under the new model. She explained the number of caseworkers had doubled from five to ten, two new supervisors had been employed, and a new post had been created for a Tribunals Officer, who would also lead on quality assurance. She added that there had also been investment in the Preparing for Adulthood team, which had increased from one to four officers. She stated that these new hires would reduce the stress placed on caseworkers and other colleagues. The Assistant Director Education and Skills added that the overall staffing level had had to be reduced due to budgetary pressures, but no staff had been lost in the SEND team. She stated that staffing levels had been reduced by removing vacant posts and by not filling posts where people had retired.

RESOLVED: That the Committee:

1. Scrutinised the operating model outlined in the report and offered support and challenge.

Supporting documents: