1) Mrs Prendergast said the Kent Commissioning Plan which was an annual document which set out how KCC was to carry out its responsibilities for ensuring the sufficiency of high quality places for all learners. In recent weeks, meetings had taken place with the district and borough council leaders and planning officers to discuss the expected future needs within their areas over the next 5 years and how needs might be best met.
Work had been undertaken to understand the challenges around demographic changes and the influence of rising labour and material costs on bringing forward housing developments. Delays had contributed to increased revenue costs where mobile classrooms were installed to meet demand in cases where schools did not open in time. In parallel, detailed work had been undertaken to clarify the capital position to ensure that KCC’s statutory duties were met. Discussions were ongoing with the Department for Education (DfE) on capital funding to ensure maximisation of resource. While recent correspondence from the DfE on the increased allocation for SEND capital was welcomed, the actual level had not been confirmed.
Internally, officers had provided an initial verification that KCC was providing value for money in use of capital funding and a peer review was being arranged. The securing of developer contributions in a timely manner had emerged as a critical issue and was also being discussed with the DfE.
Home to school transport had continued to be an issue nationally. Growing demand and difficulties in securing appropriate transport and staffing had created a ‘perfect storm’ which officers had been managing during the term. Work had been undertaken to deal with the backlog and it was noted that since a question was asked at County Council on 4 November 2021, the number of outstanding applications for appeals for transport for pupils with ECHPs had reduced from 145 to 65. Work was ongoing to reduce this further.
Mrs Prendergast and Mrs Chandler had written a letter at the end of September 2021 to the Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, regarding the high needs funding deficit as well as the basic need capital funding gap. A response was received from Will Quince, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Children and Families). In his letter, he recognised the pressure of the high needs budget had affected some local authorities’ finances and cited that provisional high needs allocations for Kent in 2022-23 were to be 8% higher than the funding allocated in the previous year. Mrs Prendergast said that she would share the correspondence with Members.
2) Mrs Chandler said that there had been a high number of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASCs) arriving in Kent that week. Following Lord Blunkett’s intervention regarding the National Transfer Scheme being made mandatory, the Leader had reiterated in interviews KCC’s position that mandating the scheme was essential. However, the agreement on safe care and reception scheme was working, although transfers had not been as swift as the Home Office might have hoped and the speed in the numbers of transfers appeared to be slowing. During the previous week, 39 young people had arrived, of which 11 were under 16 years old and were placed in foster care. 27 were 16 and 17 year old boys and went to a reception centre. One girl who was over 16 years old went into a semi-independent placement. This was over the agreed capacity and it was the aim that no further UASCs be accepted until the number had lowered to within the agreed 360. On average, 25 new arrivals had been accepted per week under the new arrangements.
There were 17,500 Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) in place across the county and there were 1485 open requests undergoing the assessment process. KCC’s performance across the county on the timely completion of educational psychology assessments and EHCPs had continued to improve. Over the previous two months, the Educational Psychology Service had completed over 90% of their assessments within the statutory timeframe. There were a small number of complex historical cases that were to have completed assessments by February 2022. The EHCP time limit was running at 42% for the year and continued to improve month on month. Applications remained at around 350 per month and this was higher than before the pandemic. Most requests were coming from parents and further analysis of this was being undertaken. Many of the requests were more complex than they were prior to the pandemic as well.
Two surveys had recently been undertaken of Qualified Social Work staff and of Care Leavers. 540 responses had been received for the survey of Qualified Social Work Staff and 543 responses had been received for the survey of Care Leavers, which was closing on the day of the meeting. It was noted that it was important to listen to what both cohorts were saying. It would be looked at with officers how to take forward the key messages from each survey.
KCC teamed up with the Young Lives Foundation to try to raise £20,000 which would enable each of Kent’s 2000 Care Leavers to receive a £10 gift on Christmas morning. The Corporate Parenting Christmas Appeal was run annually and prior to the pandemic, physical gifts were donated. Last year, the Appeal was very successful and therefore, the target was more ambitious for Christmas 2021. Members were encouraged to support the appeal.
Mrs Allen’s enthusiasm was missed this year and Members were reminded of her encouragement to be generous to young people.