Agenda item

Verbal Update by Cabinet Member and Corporate Director


1) Mrs Prendergast said work had been undertaken with Kent Supported Employment Service which supported people with physical disabilities, learning difficulties, autism and sensory issues to move into sustainable, paid work.  Working with people aged 16 to 70, the service also supported employers with recruitment.  From September 2021, the team was moving into mainstream schools to help support them in providing employment opportunities for all pupils with special educational needs and disabilities and would encourage pupils with to name employment on their ECHPs starting from year 9. KCC was the first council in the UK to introduce this in all mainstream schools. Training was to include embedding supported employment into the curriculum through head teachers, SENCOs, parents and teacher buy-in. Training also aimed to empower school staff through programmes such as systematic instruction, professional job coaching and the supported employment model as well as independent travel training skills. Work was being done with Oakley College (which was being re-named The Oaks Specialist School) to support their students into employment.  The first phase was an on-site Tesco store and an independent coffee shop. Placements were to be used as a transition to employment. Mrs Prendergast was looking forward to attending the official launch of the Tesco store on 29 September 2021.


The Kent Test was taken by Kent’s pupils on Thursday, 9 September and testing for ‘out of county’ pupils took place on Saturday,11 September. A significant amount of work was carried out by officers beforehand to ensure the testing environments remained Covid-safe and were in line with government guidance. Where necessary alternative arrangements were made to ensure that no self-isolating child was compelled to attend their original test date.  This year, additional training sessions were provided to schools on making the best use of the Head Teacher Assessment process and highlighted the importance of referring all suitable pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and provided with support, where requested.  Results were to be made available on 21 October before the national closing date for secondary applications on 31 October.  Unlike in 2020, it was not necessary to provide pupils with additional preferences as parents were to apply knowing whether their child was eligible to attend a Kent grammar school.


Children and young people engaged in variety of online opportunities helping them to ‘get ahead’ before the start of new school term.  Over 82,500 learning opportunities were delivered to children and young people over a 5 week period by Invicta National Academy with 40% of those participants being Kent residents.  Over 200 children accessed the Lift Up platform over the summer period. Students took virtual trips to 6 destinations around the world to connect with inspiring human stories that modelled resilience, problem solving, teamwork and other critical skills.  In partnership with Reconnect, over 100 young people furthered their learning using the free resources provided by AudioFy. GCSE and A-level students had free access to a library of more than 22,000 podcasts which brought to live a wide range of subjects. Broken down into short episodes of 10 to 12 minutes, students could tune in whether they were at home or ‘on the move’ so fitting in with their lives.


Following advice from the UK Chief Medical Officers, the Health and Social Care Secretary announced that pupils aged 12 to 15 years old in England were to be offered one dose of the Pfizer/Biontech Covid-19 vaccination. All young people aged 16 and 17 were able to receive a vaccination as well as some children aged 12 to 15 years old who had a condition or lived with someone with a condition that placed them at high risk from Covid-19.  The vaccination programme was being expanded to protect young people from catching Covid-19, to reduce transmission in school and to keep pupils in the classroom.  Locally, health services were preparing to deliver a schools-based vaccination programme.  This was to be supported by GPs and community pharmacies. Parental or guardian consent was to be sought by vaccination healthcare staff prior to the vaccination in line with existing school vaccination programmes. It was understood that a national consent model was being worked on.  Alternative provision was to be provided for those who were homes educated, in secure services or in specialist mental health settings.


The call for evidence for the 16-19 Review closed on 31 July 2021 and the findings were being collated. The Review aimed to improve the options and life chances of Kent’s young people by enhancing education, skills and training opportunities available to them.  Collaborative work with various sectors was being undertaken to utilise the evidence to bring about positive change.  In line with the above, a considerable amount of work was being done with the Kent and Medway Employment Taskforce.


Thanks were given to schools’ staff who helped to prepare school buildings ahead of the new school term.


In response to questions, it was noted:


·       Updates would be provided to Members regarding the Covid-19 vaccination programme in schools. The guidance and consent model were not available at the time of the meeting.

·       The news regarding employment services going into schools was welcomed.


2) Mrs Chandler said that the community in Kent had come together to deliver a successful summer programme to help children and young people reconnect to things they had missed during the Covid-19 pandemic including learning but also: health, happiness, friends, family, community, sports activities, the outdoors and economic wellbeing. The Reconnect Programme received lots of positive messages regarding the opportunities available and how valued these were by families.  Thanks were given to all the clubs, companies, organisations and volunteers who were involved with summer programme.  It was evident that children and young people and their families were able to enjoy a wide range of activities, fun days, trips and support with everything from archery to yoga on offer.  A full briefing was circulated with more detail.


The holiday activities and food programme with partners delivered around 4200 free places weekly for children on free school meals. Mrs Chandler visited some of the events and activities taking place in east Kent and saw first-hand the fun and joy had by those attending. The Open Access Service ran a series of events across Kent with 2677 children and young people and 1713 parents and carers attending.  Feedback had been particularly strong regarding the free travel offer provided by 14 bus companies, in partnership with whom we distributed approximately 150,000 child tickets and 40,000 family tickets, which recipients truly valued.  Thanks were given to the bus companies and the Public Transport Team for their great contribution.


Leisure centres across Kent also provided a great offer, acknowledging that they were also in recovery from lockdown and it was not an easy ask from businesses.  Mrs Chandler looked forward to the next phase of the programme and seeing the tremendous work of those supporting Kent’s communities.


There had been an update from the Leader and from Mrs Chandler and a report from the Monitoring Officer which detailed the decision for KCC to resume duties in relation to Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC).  Following protracted negotiations at the highest level, both with officers and at the political level with the Home Office and the Department for Education to find a sustainable long-term solution, a conclusion had been reached.  Members were to be formally updated at an All-Member Briefing.


KCC’s Open Access Team was involved with Afghan refugees and support was being provided.  Further details would be provided at the Members’ Briefing.


In response to questions, it was noted:


·       Northfleet Youth Centre was partially re-opened but there had been considerable damage following its use as a Covid-19 centre. The Property Team were working to address the issues and how damage could be remedied.

·       Conversations were ongoing with the bus companies but it could not be guaranteed that the free travel offer would be repeated in future years.