To receive an update from the Executive Member for Children’s Services and to discuss Trafford’s position in relation to COVID 19.
The Executive Member for Children’s Services acknowledged the challenging and difficult time. She expressed her gratitude for Council staff working in Children’s services, the Council’s partners, foster carers, and schools. People had been working around the clock to put support in place and asses risks in a way that had never been done before and at a rapid pace. The Executive Member for Children’s Services noted that the questions had been received the Friday before the meeting and thanked the Corporate Director of Children’s Services, Director of Education Standards, Quality and Performance, and the Lead Member for Education for the work they had done to put the responses together. The Committee were told that if any of the questions were not covered fully during the meeting that they would be followed up afterwards in writing.
The Executive Member for Children’s services informed the Committee that it was for Schools to decide how and when they would reopen. The Council’s role in terms of the wider reopening of schools across the borough was one of providing support and guidance for schools to aid them in making those decisions. In May the Prime Minister announced that schools would reopen for nursery, reception , year one, and year six with some face to face contact for year 10 and year 12 pupils. Trafford had recommended that schools prepare to re-open more widely on the 10th of June. However, following an announcement regarding the R rate in the North West on the 5th June a further recommendation was made for schools to be able to take more time to review their risk assessments.
The Lead Member for Education told the Committee that all schools were opening on the 15th June. By the 12th June 71 primary schools had reopened and 2006 children were in school. The Council had offered schools more time to prepare if they needed it along with support to review their risk assessments. It was too early to say how many children had attended school on the 15th June but it was expected to be a large increase as all schools were opening. The Chair requested that the figures for the first day back be given to the Committee and the Director of Education Standards, Quality and Performance confirmed that the data would be shared.
The Lead Member for Education stated that there were expected to be variations in the level of attendance across the borough. It was anticipated that demand would be higher in the South of the borough than the North although the exact picture would not be known until the data was available. The Director of Education Standards, Quality and Performance added that the figures were likely to change on a daily basis as schools would be implementing different rotas and the position was likely to continue to change over the days and weeks following the reopening. Additional guidance had been released by the DFE stating that schools could open to more year groups if they had sufficient resources to do so. The Council had made it clear to schools that all wider admittance was to be done on top of providing places to the children of key workers and vulnerable children.
The Lead Member for Education then moved onto the question regarding childminders. The guidance relating to childminders and schools stated that children should stay in a single setting where possible, which had made things very difficult for childminders. The week commencing 8th June 99 out of 239 childminders across Trafford were open but 30 of those had no children, which reflected parent’s lack of confidence.
Councillor New had been contacted by childminders saying that schools had been preventing them from collecting children. There were instances where childminders had been looking after children during lockdown but now were unable to do so. The Councillor asked whether anything would change so these situations would not occur. The Director of Education Standards, Quality and Performance responded that in the meetings with head teachers this issue had been raised around managing the risk outside of schools, children coming into schools, and the chances of cross infection. The early year’s strategic board was meeting on the 16th June and there was a meeting with primary school cluster leads on the 17th June. The Committee were assured that this issue would be raised at both of those forums. The Director of Education Standards, Quality and Performance asked that Councillor New provide information as to where this was happening so it could be taken up with the relevant head teachers.
The Corporate Director of Children’s services added that they had attended a meeting with the regional schools commissioner where the issues of interpreting the guidance and the sustainability of the sector had been raised. It was recognised that Trafford needed a flexible wrap around childcare offer but COVID 19 had made more it difficult to provide that offer due to infection control. The Director of Public Health pointed out the importance of having honesty from people regarding their situation. It was better to have flexibility and stability with a known risk than being too strict leading to people not engaging.
The Lead Member for Education concluded the discussion of the topic by informing the Committee that due to COVID 19 it was highly likely the number of children eligible for 2 and 3 year old funding would rise due to the increase in deprivation.
The Lead Member for education then responded to the question on the relaxation of key legislation and reasonable endeavours. The Committee were informed that 73% of EHCPs were being completed within the statutory time frame, which was an improvement from 61% the last time the data was collected. All decisions were being made within the six week timescale and no exceptions had been applied so far. SEND was performing as business as usual with all panels occurring with the same frequency and with the same representation across education, health, and social care. All assessments were being completed by educational psychologists and other professionals were available online or via telephone. Peripatetic services, while not working within schools, were working with schools on risk assessments.
The Corporate Director of Children’s services stated that Children’s services were in a similar position to adult services. There had been amendments to the Children’s act and the adoption act and Trafford had not used the freedoms and flexibilities that were available. Trafford had laid out circumstances where the freedoms and flexibilities might be used within an assurance document. The document included the process that the Council would go through in order to sign off the use of those freedoms and flexibilities.
The Director of Education Standards, Quality and Performance made it clear that the panels and decision making process had not changed. Trafford were collating information about the decisions schools had made regarding the delivery of EHCPs. Trafford had sent communications to all schools and SENCOS as to what the legislation meant for pupils in their care. Trafford were also contacting every SENCO to find out whether reasonable endeavours were being used and how they were meeting children’s needs.
The Chair stated that he found it reassuring that Trafford were continuing with business as usual. The Chair requested that the Pandemic Scrutiny Committee be informed if there were to be any changes to this position.
The Lead Member for education added that a lot of support was being delivered online with the sensory impairment service and speech language therapists sending packs out for parents. Teachers of deaf pupils were checking in with schools on a weekly basis and other services were still being delivered just not in the traditional way. The Director of Education Standards, Quality and Performance added that Trafford had asked for detail around the therapies that were being offered for children with additional needs. This information would give Trafford a good understanding on the current position of therapy and aid in planning how it would be delivered as more children went back to school.
The Executive Member for Children’s services added that the Children and Young Peoples Scrutiny Committee had presented a report to the Executive and the response had been ready for some time. The response had been delayed due to the pandemic and was being updated to reflect what had happened.
The Executive Member for Children’s Services moved onto the response to the questions in relation to children in care. The Council had not reduced the frequency of visits to children in care during the pandemic. Social workers had been flexible and creative in the ways that they had carried out their visits, with as many face to face visits being conducted as possible and others being carried out virtually. There had been a focus on ensuring that the quality of visits was maintained with weekly updates provided through the performance reporting process and two full audits had been conducted.
A clear system of contact and liaison with schools had been established for vulnerable children who should have been attending school but were not. This included decision making around the levels of contact needed with families. The Executive Member stated that this had a positive effect upon the Council’s relationship with schools and had opened up a new dialog that the Council would look to maintain and strengthen going forward.
The Council had also been working with the police and the Trafford safeguarding partnership to address concerns regarding new cases as children were not able to present themselves at the usual settings. There were further concerns regarding possible increases in domestic violence during lockdown. The Council had been working with police to ensure incidents were flagged at the earliest opportunity. Plans were being developed to deal with any surges in referrals that may occur once the restrictions were eased and services were resumed.
Councillor Thompson asked whether the council had any predicted figures for the number of new cases that may arise. The Corporate Director of Children’s services responded that the Council had seen a decrease in demand up to 30% so that would be the highest increase expected. However, the previous year, which the figures were based upon, had seen higher demand than usual so demand would have been expected to reduce. In addition the proactive work that had been done by the Council’s and their partners led the service to believe that demand would not increase by that amount.
The lead Member for Education then moved on to answering the Committee’s questions on disadvantaged and vulnerable school children. The Lead Member for education informed the Committee that the full picture of the impact on disadvantaged children would not be available until after they had returned to school. In Trafford there were 251 children with EHCPs in place, 185 children who were supported by social workers, and 237 other vulnerable children. Those children had been prioritised in accessing school places and were being monitored by children’s services. Schools had been working to ensure that all children entitled to free school meals had been receiving vouchers throughout the pandemic.
Work had been done around supporting these children with home learning. The Council promoted the use of BBC bitesize website as well as the Oak National Academy that had been set up by the government for online lessons. In addition, packs had been delivered to children’s homes, there had been Zoom lessons where possible, and weekly phone calls had been held with parents and children. There was a problem around children who had not attended school and schools were working on how to get those children back in.
The Director of Education Standards, Quality and Performance added that the Council were aware of the issue of lost learning and had created additional sub groups with a range of partners focused on teaching, learning, and recovering the curriculum. A lot of work was being planned to improve reading and vocabulary as the Council were aware that the ability gap was going to increase, which would impact on all parts of the curriculum. Trafford were linking in with the work at the GM level and the education endowment fund was producing materials aimed at catching up and rapid improvement programmes that schools could adapt. The Council were focused upon getting children ready to learn and were looking at the impact of the pandemic on children’s mental health, including attachment and trauma based challenges that children might have, with educational psychologists providing support for schools. Trafford’s approach was to equip schools to deal with lower level issues to prevent them escalating and reduce the demand for mental health services. There was particular concern around the learning that had been lost by year one pupils and work was ongoing at the GM level to look at how to support those pupils.
The Executive Member for Children’s services then addressed the question relating to mental health and the waiting lists for the Healthy Young Minds Service. The Committee were informed that the service was still taking referrals and that they had a waiting list of 11 children, who all had telephone assessments booked for June and July. This was a reduction from a waiting list of 105 children in March before the pandemic. The majority of work had switched to remote working but the service was still offering face to face meetings where needed. The Council was putting surge plans in place for the service in case there was an increased demand as the restrictions were reduced. The Kooth online service had been working to support children with mental health issues in Trafford and had expanded their service for children and young people up to the age of 19.
The Corporate Director of Children’s services assured the Committee that the Council had a dedicated work stream for response and recovery of mental wellbeing and mental health. While there had been a reduction in the demand for services like Healthy Young Minds online services, including Kooth, had seen an increase in demand. Children’s services were working with commissioners and providers to ensure that there was a wide range of offers available. A mapping exercise was underway to review the totality of the Trafford offer to see what the support needs were for different age groups and types of issues. This exercise would identify gaps in service which needed to be addressed to meet the changing needs of children and young people.
The Executive Member for Children’s services added that if there were any further questions that they would be happy to come back provide answers at a later meeting.
1) That the Executive Member of Children’s Services, the Lead Member for Education Services, The Corporate Director of Children’s Services, and the Director of Education Standards, Quality and Performance be thanked for attending the meeting.
2) That the figures for the number of pupils attending school on the first day back be shared with the Committee.
3) That Councillor New provide information as to where issues with the collection of Children had happened.
4) That the Pandemic Scrutiny Committee be informed if Trafford implemented any flexibilities or freedoms.