Agenda item

Verbal Updates

To receive verbal updates from the relevant Cabinet Members and Corporate Director for the Education and Young People’s Services portfolio.



1.            The Cabinet Members, Mr Gough, Mr Oakford and Mr Hill; and the Corporate Director, Mr Leeson, gave their verbal updates highlighting the following:-


2.            Mr Gough spoke on Special School Developments, advising that he welcomed the development on the Furness site and the work being carried out on the Ridge View School, Tonbridge.  There had been some objections; and issues raised by Southern Water which lead to the decision to withdraw the planning application.  An alternative proposal had been drawn up for Ridge View and was being brought forward for Ridge View to be on the Yeoman’s field site, a playing field currently used by the Judd School. [Judd school was accelerating its development of playing fields which it had already bought] this was all subject to planning permission.


3.            A small schools conference was held last week where speakers present included; Mr Leeson and Mr Tear.  Those present considered a piece of work by Melanie Cox, former HMI looking at the issues on small schools; the challenges and the advantages and how to build up federations between schools across a variety of groupings to give them strength for a good future.


4.            There had been much interest in the school funding since the recent general election.  The F40 Group, which KCC was a member of, consisted of the lowest funded counties in the country.  Kent was underfunded and was keen if there was any debate on this issue that Kent’s voice was heard strongly.  Mr Gough advised that he had written to Kent MPs setting KCC’s position on key issues, particularly on the £390m designed to support some of the lowest funded authorities. Kent did not receive support from this funding pot and felt penalised for acting on what the government was keen that local authorities should devolve as much money into schools as possible;  this lead to Kent schools appearing, on block, to be well-funded resulting in Kent not receiving additional funding.  Mr Gough was keen for Kent not to be bypassed on issues regarding schools funding.


5.            Mr Leeson advised that the provisional Key Stage 2 results had been received for this summer.  80% of pupils received level 4 in reading, writing and mathematics combined which was a 2% improvement on last year. Mr Leeson said that he expected the validated result to show a slight increase by 1%.


6.            The Cabinet Committee was advised that the Education and Adoption Bill had been introduced which made provision for schools to be automatically sponsored by an academy trust if they failed an Ofsted inspection. 


7.            Mr Leeson explained that the government had produced new definition of a “coasting school”.  He considered that a reasonable explanation of a coasting school would be a school where even though the standards were high it was making less than expected progress or some groups of pupils were making less than expected progress.  He advised that the new definition of a coasting school meant that a school would be coasting if it was not making the expected progress for pupils and if the school’s attainment in GCSEs was below 60% for a Secondary school and the key Stage outcomes were below 85% of outcomes in Primary school.  This would mean on the attainment measures that nearly half of Primary schools in Kent would be coasting schools and 57 of Kent’s Secondary schools would be coasting schools if the progress measures were also not good enough.


8.            Mr Leeson advised that 82% of Kent schools were now good or outstanding which was in line with the national average.  The improvement rate in Primary schools was welcomed with 82% of Primary schools being good or outstanding overall in Kent; that represented a significant amount of hard work and very good leadership on the part of Primary school headteachers especially.  Mr Leeson concluded that 83% of pupils in Kent were now attending a good or outstanding school, compared to 74% at the same time last year.


9.            Mr Leeson referred to the new Common Inspection Framework that was being introduced by Ofsted from September 2015.  The Framework would be used across Further Education, Early Years settings and independent and maintained schools, Adult education and Skills etc.  It would continue to judge on the overall effectiveness, leadership and management, teaching and learning, and achievement and progress.  There were two important developments which Mr Leeson noted; (i) it emphasised even more that pupil progress would be the key measure that inspectors would look at rather than just published data around outcomes.  Mr Leeson welcomed this development, and (ii) a change to the inspection process.  It would now be a short inspection or visit for good schools every 3 years to validate whether the school continued to be a good school.  If there was an indication that the school had slipped then there would be a full inspection brought forward and if there were indications that the school had improved to outstanding there would also be a full inspection.  Mr Leeson welcomed this development too.


10.         Mr Leeson concluded that there had been a change in how the Ofsted inspectors were trained and recruited.  It had brought this back in-house.  All inspectors were directly employed and trained directly by Ofsted and organised on a regional basis therefore Ofsted was guaranteeing a better consistent quality of inspection and would be able to monitor the inspection activity closely in the local area.


11.         The new Early Help and Preventative Service had been in place since April 2014, the service was designed to support vulnerable children and families who fell below the criteria for a referral to statutory Children Social Care.  Kent’s expectation was to support more children in Kent so that they do not need to have the statutory social care measures applied and that this would lead to a reduction in the number of children in the statutory social care service.  This was important for the families that their needs do not escalate to specialist intervention and for Kent to use its resources more effectively.  The trend was monitored on a monthly basis.  Mr Leeson reported that the statistical trends from January to May this year indicated that referrals were down from 28% to 22%.  There was also a reduction in the number of cases stepped up to Children’s Social Care from Early help from 15% to 8%.  There was also an increase in step down of cases from 22% to 27%.  There was a significant increase in the number of closed cases with positive outcomes for the children and the families from 49% in January to 69% in May 2015.  Cases were being tracked and monitored.


12.         Mr Oakford advised that he had visited many children’s centres across the county and welcomed the significant improvements that he observed.  He made reference to positive comments by the staff and users of the service on the restructure of the children’s centres, in particular the leadership of the service.  There was evidence of the children’s centres and Social Services working together and improved relationships between the children centres and the schools.  Mr Oakford mentioned his attendance at a briefing session on children centres attended by Sue Gregory an ex Ofsted inspector, staff and management, that he considered one of the most beneficial meetings he had attended at a County Councillor.


13.         Mr Oakford advised that the Select Committee that been appointed to review the role of Corporate Parenting within Kent County Council had sought an extension of 2 months to carry out more in-depth research to produce a robust report.


14.         Mr Oakford referred to the Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) that recently entered Kent.  He advised that in June 2015, 85 new UASC were brought into the care of KCC, and by 6 July, 42 additional UASC were brought in Kent.  Mr Oakford reminded Members that Millbank Reception Centre could accommodate 50 young people to date there were 101 young people being accommodated at Millbank, this meant there were mattresses on floors and 3 people in a room. Measures were being taken to find an additional facility as a reception facility.  He advised that agency social workers were being employed to cover the additional assessments and work with the UASC.  Mr Oakford stated that there were additional pressures on services including; the Virtual School Kent, housing, education, health services; and the local community.

Mr Oakford said that discussions were going to take place with the Home Office and Kent MPs on this issue.


15.         Mr Hill advised Members on the current situation regarding Bewl Water Outdoor Centre, Lamberhurst, a residential education centre facility.  Mr Hill advised that the sailing facility was in financial difficulty, although there was no direct impact on the education centre, there was a concern regarding this as an important facility used by children and adults of the centre, as this was a large and successful sailing club.  The situation would continue to be monitored.


16.         Mr Gough, Mr Oakford and Mr Leeson responded to questions by Members as follows:


(a)   Mr Oakford advised that the cost to Kent for the UASC was £3m before the rise in number in the last six weeks.  Colleagues in Finance and Social Services were currently working on up to date data and statistics to aid the discussions with the Home office and Kent MPs.

(b)  Mr Oakford explained that the situation with the UASC in 2011 was different to how it was at present.  He advised that there had been a decision to close Millbank Reception Centre because it was not being utilised and it was fortunate that this did not happen. He explained that there had been a 90% increase of UASC in the last few months.   Following these recent developments the Home Office would be meeting with KCC this week to discuss the issue.

(c)  Mr Leeson advised that the Early Help and Preventative Service was designed to look at three ranges of services. (i) Children with multi disadvantage issues in their lives who do not meet the criteria for children in social care but have quite high areas of need  were considered the most important group.  (ii) Children who need a targeted need, a single service response in order to help address an issue and (iii) to provide a range of universal access to services that would make a difference to the more vulnerable eg Children Centres and Youth hubs etc. so that needs do not escalate.  Mr Leeson explained that there was an issue with managing expectations.  He said that some schools were doing a great deal to support children that they recognised were vulnerable children and only referred those children when its support had been exhausted and required additional help to support a child and family.  Work had been carried out by the Early Help and Preventative Service with schools to manage their expectations and sign posting the schools to the correct service they need, this had helped to reduce the number of referrals.

(d)  Mr Leeson explained that the number of children, presently 5500, being supported by the Early Help and Preventative Services was considered too high and some of their needs could be met elsewhere.  The Service needed to be carefully targeted.  He advised that the Service was tracking the referrals as part of its monthly data, and the response times were ambitious but could be met.  He advised that when a school made a notification to Early Help it would hear back in two weeks with an explanation of what was being done.  If an Early Help notification went forward to having an assessment and Early Help Plan this would take place in four weeks.  The latest number of notifications had risen to 69%, which meant that nearly 70% of the work was happening within the timescale.  If a school had concerns they were advised to invite the Local District Manager to the school and present them with the issues that needed to be addressed.  The Service was clear that it was to deliver good outcomes.  The Cabinet Committee noted that it would receive regular progress reports and that monthly data was being produced and was widely available.

(e)  Mr Gough said that the pressures for school places in particular areas of Kent were recognised. At present the UASC mentioned by Mr Oakford had yet to enter the system to be allocated a school place.  He advised that some of the pressures on school places were due to the increase in the birth rate, housing development and migration from both inside and outside the UK.    He considered that overall Kent was delivering good school places in line with parental preferences.


17.         RESOLVED that the information given in the verbal updates and the responses to questions by Members be noted with thanks.

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