Agenda item

Verbal Update by Cabinet Members


1) Mrs Prendergast announced the launch of the SEND Inclusion Leadership programme which started from 11 January 2022 with leadership teams from 72 mainstream schools taking part in the first cohort.


The transformation programme was commissioned by KCC from a consortium including the Kent based Learning Leadership South East (LLSE), the National Association of Special Educational Needs (nasen) and the Education Development Trust.


360 Kent schools were to benefit from a professional development programme which had been shaped by input from officers, the Kent Association of Headteachers, The Education Endowment Fund and the organisations leading on delivery.


Participating schools were to benefit from:


·       A bespoke development programme to help the school community improve their SEND inclusion,

·       locally developed materials and training,

·       expert support from a nominated Inclusion Leader of Education (ILE) and

·       funded release time for participating school leaders.

Mrs Prendergast looked forward to seeing the impact of this and the other two big SEND school transformation programmes, Nurture schools and Supported Employment as they were being rolled out across the county.


On Thursday, 6 January Cabinet agreed the Kent Commissioning Plan for Education Provision 2022-26, Cabinet noted that housebuilding was forecast to place significant pressure on school places, particularly in the medium to longer term and raised concern that whilst the current system of securing developer contributions was an imperfect one, some alternative mechanisms could disadvantage upper tier authorities such as KCC further.


This issue was also raised by members of this committee when it discussed the KCP at its previous meeting. The issue was considered to be wide ranging and Mrs Prendergast was working with colleagues across Cabinet to seek that it was recognised by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities as the Department considers any future national planning reforms.


Whilst the KCP sets out the principles by which proposals were determined and future provision was forecast, the KCP was a live document and our Area Education Officers were to continue to work with schools, district and borough councils, diocesan authorities, KCC members and local communities, to ensure KCC meets its responsibilities as the Strategic Commissioner for Education Provision in Kent.


The fluidity of the demographic trends was illustrated by the falling demand for secondary school places in the Thanet area, which led to the Minister’s decision at the end of last year not to proceed with the building of Park Crescent Secondary school. This decision had eased the pressure on capital funding which can now be redirected where we know there is continued growth. Thanks were given to all the officers that were involved in shaping this document and for their continued support.


Schools played a critical role in rural communities and KCC remained committed to supporting schools to thrive. KCC were monitoring the potential impact on small schools of changes in the national funding formula, in resources available to Local Authorities and of the government’s intention to academize all schools.

The Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, had written an open letter to education and childcare leaders on the return to education settings in 2022.  In his letter, he acknowledged the huge commitment from all in the sector in continuing to care for and provide high quality education, care and pastoral support for children and young people. He had emphasised the need to keep children and young people attending settings and school, and the importance of face-to-face teaching, except in exceptional circumstances. KCC endorsed this view and thanked those leading schools and settings and their staff for their tremendous commitment and work in the education of our children and young people.

New guidance issued by the DfE also concentrated on maximising the number of children in attendance at school and college - for the maximum amount of time.  In light of the Omicron variant surge, the government had temporarily recommended that face coverings were worn in classrooms and teaching spaces for all students in Year 7 and above.  The advice was short term only – until 26 January 2022.

The rules around self-isolation had also changed and the guidance explained how any pupil testing positive might be able to end their self-isolation period before the full 10 days.  They were able to take a lateral flow device test from 6 days after the start of symptoms and another the next day – at least 24 hours later.  If both tests were negative and the pupil did not have a high temperature, they were then able to return to their education setting.

Officers from both Education and Public Health had provided support and guidance to Headteachers – via various channels – provided updated government guidance and encouraged schools to continue with their own risk assessments to keep their school communities safe.

NHS England had asked that all eligible students be offered a second dose of the vaccine before the February half term – with students becoming eligible for a second dose 12 weeks after their first.  The School Immunisation Service (SAIS) had produced a timetable for delivery of the second dose visits – those schools who had their visit scheduled the weeks commencing 10 and 17 January were informed prior to the Christmas break and the service aims to inform all other schools by the end of next week.  Regular webinars were also to be run throughout the programme covering the process – including consents, logistics and so forth.

At the same time, the NHS had also stated that no other programmes could be put at risk through the delivery of the covid vaccines, and the School Immunisation Service was also rolling out a parallel Human Papillomavirus Vaccination programme so both the Service and secondary schools were experiencing considerable additional pressure in the first half term.

The guidance issued by the Department for Education regarding winter planning was that, “Schools should, wherever possible, stay open in severe weather.  They play a key role in their communities and by staying open help both the pupils and parents”. The Winter Planning guidance provided advice to Headteachers about the risks schools may face and offered preventative strategies and advice on how to communicate a school’s closure to parents, stakeholders and the Local Authority. Area Education Officers were available to provide any support that the schools required.

2) Further to questions and comments, it was noted:

·       Lateral flow tests were important in keeping schools open and assurances were given that these were available to schools. There had been uneven distribution across schools but there had been a meeting with head teachers to discuss re-distribution.

·       Maximising developer contributions towards schools was important and work was ongoing with the DfE and government departments to maximise the funding on basic need and the capital programme.

·       KCC officers had met with Kent Association of Head Teachers and guidance had gone out to schools regarding Covid-19 guidance. Funding was being made available to schools for ventilation units and schools were being encouraged to put in bids. Concerns were raised about whether the funding would be adequate.

3) Mrs Chandler said that the Christmas Campaign for Care Leavers raised £23,000, meaning that KCC was able to provide over 2,000 care Leavers in Kent with a gift. Discussions were underway to determine how we best spend the additional money that was raised. Thanks were given to all who donated.


Thanks were given to David Weiss and he was wished a long and happy retirement after 43 years in local government. Over the previous 5 years, David had led the Headstart programme which aimed to help young people and their families through improved resilience and developing their knowledge and lifelong skills to maximise both their own, and their peers’ emotional health and wellbeing. His leadership had ensured that the programme was designed and implemented with young people at its heart, and this had been crucial to HeadStart’s success.


The six-year programme was funded by the National Lottery Community Fund and the programme was to officially complete its work in 2022.  A full report on HeadStart was to be come to the June meeting of CYPE Cabinet Committee.


As part of the Reconnect Programme, 62 Holiday Activity Fund provisions were delivered which offered 3139 places to our children and young people. Additional e-vouchers were issued, requested via Social Workers and Early Help Workers for those children who were not in receipt of the Free School Meals.


Formal monitoring reports were due later in January, however the on-line booking system indicated that 47 provisions were showing 80% or more take up. Reasons for non-attendance were mainly attributed to concerns over COVID or impacted on family Christmas plans. A parent and child online questionnaire was launched to get feedback on the Reconnect and Holiday Activity Fund.


In terms of the locality grants, Round 2 was successfully operated and Round 3 which seeks to deliver activity for summer 2022 was launched on 5 January. The County Grant application process closed on 9 January.


On 23 December, the Leader of Kent County Council wrote to Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Department of Levelling up, Communities and Housing, and addressed the incredibly difficult operational challenges that the authority faced as a result of the pandemic.  


Integrated children’s services staff were still having to manage unprecedented pressures in all front-line services and with that, these services were becoming increasingly challenging places to work, with high levels of staff sickness with the rapid spread of Omicron variant undoubtedly contributing, increased referrals and demand for services, unsurprisingly some staff were becoming exhausted.


Statutory partners had been unable to provide the same level of service as they had been redirected to help manage other duties as a result of the pandemic. This was also a particular problem within the Family Courts, where a request for a Court hearing was being given a date in June, placing further pressure on our social workers as they manage the risk that may potentially have for vulnerable children.


Despite resilience planning, which had been put in place, the operating environment was becoming increasingly fragile. The hard work and resilience of staff was very much recognised and thanks were given to staff for their continued dedication in supporting our most vulnerable children, young people and families in very difficult circumstances.


4) Further to questions and comments, it was noted:


·       Sustainability had been part of the Headstart Programme and further information about the sustainability plan would be brought to June’s meeting of CYPE Cabinet Committee.


·       It was also being considered which aspects of the Reconnect Programme would be possible to maintain.


·       Staff in all sectors had been affected by absences associated with Covid-19 and contingency plans were in place to prioritise statutory visits and duties. Staff sickness levels from the Omicron variant were not has high as predicted.


·       Children’s Services relied on other agencies to protect children such as the Family Courts and there were large backlogs which were creating delays for children. Availability of health staff had been a problem and this was another factor adding complexity and pressure to ICS cases.