Agenda and minutes

Children and Families Scrutiny Committee
Tuesday, 19th June, 2012 1.30 pm

Venue: Committee Suite 1,2 & 3, Westfields, Middlewich Road, Sandbach CW11 1HZ. View directions

Contact: Mark Grimshaw  Scrutiny Officer

Items
No. Item

1.

Apologies for Absence

2.

Minutes of Previous Meeting pdf icon PDF 69 KB

To approve the minutes of the meeting held on 23 April 2012.

Minutes:

RESOLVED – That the minutes of the meeting held on 23 April 2012 be approved as a correct record.

3.

Declaration of Interest

To provide an opportunity for Members and Officers to declare any personal and/or prejudicial interests in relation to any item on the agenda.

 

 

Minutes:

None noted.

4.

Declaration of Party Whip

To provide an opportunity for Members to declare the existence of a party whip in relation to any item on the agenda.

 

Minutes:

None noted.

5.

Public Speaking Time/Open Session

A total period of 15 minutes is allocated for members of the public to make a statement(s) on any matter that falls within the remit of the Committee.

 

Individual members of the public may speak for up to 5 minutes, but the Chairman will decide how the period of time allocated for public speaking will be apportioned, where there are a number of speakers.

 

Note:  In order for officers to undertake any background research, it would be helpful if members of the public notified the Scrutiny officer listed at the foot of the agenda, at least one working day before the meeting with brief details of the matter to be covered.

 

 

Minutes:

There no members of the public who wished to address the Committee.

6.

Information Advice and Guidance ( IAG ) : Update pdf icon PDF 64 KB

To consider a report of the Strategic Director of Children, Families and Adults.

Minutes:

Prior to inviting the officers to present their report, the Chairman drew the Committee’s attention to the fact that students from the two respective Sandbach secondary schools had been co-opted onto the Committee for this item. He also noted that Mr John Knight, a careers advisor at Sandbach High School was present. They were invited to participate fully in the discussion and the Chairman stated that their involvement would provide an invaluable insight into how careers advice was being delivered in the Borough.

 

Peter Cavanagh, 14-25 Manager, provided the Committee with an update on Information advice and guidance (IAG) and in particular the Council’s changing role within this landscape. He explained that the Government had passed legislation to amend the responsibility for providing careers guidance to young people, which had previously been provided by Local Authorities via Connexions services. Peter explained that following these legislative changes, from September 2012, schools themselves would be responsible for securing access to independent and impartial careers guidance for pupils in Year 9-11. He also noted that the Government had established a National Careers Service for England which would provide information and guidance to young people through a helpline and website. Within this new framework, schools would be free to make arrangements for careers guidance for young people that fitted the needs and circumstances of their pupils, and would be able to engage, as appropriate, in partnership with external, expert providers.

 

In terms of the Council’s engagement with careers guidance, it was no longer an expectation that the Council would provide a universal careers service. Rather, the Council’s role would be to fulfil its statutory duty to encourage, enable or assist young people’s participation in education or training, particularly with respect to the Government’s commitment to raise the participation age to 18 by 2015.

 

Peter reported that the Council also had a responsibility to support vulnerable young people to engage in education and training, intervening early with those who were at risk of disengagement. Peter explained that the Council used the local Client Caseload Information System (CCIS) to record and track progress against a young person’s post 16 plan. The Council was expected to report monthly on participation and this generated the Council’s ‘NEET’ figure.

 

Building on this latter point, Peter reported that the Council had transferred former Connexions staff into the local authority and that it was these who were being used to target intervention to those school pupils identified as at risk of disengagement.

 

The Chairman invited the representatives from the Sandbach schools to outline how careers advice was administered in their settings. Mr John Knight from Sandbach High School explained that it was his role to offer a universal careers service to the students. This began at Year 9 when students selected their options and continued through to Year 13. John added that in Year 11, students were given an individual interview to which parents were invited.

 

The two students from Sandbach School reported that their school did not have a designated  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.

7.

Early Years Provision - Care and Education pdf icon PDF 86 KB

To consider a report of the Strategic Director of Children, Families and Adults (to follow).

Minutes:

Following a request made at the previous meeting, Mark Thornton, Project Advisor (Early Years and Childcare) and Carol Sharples, Early Years and Childcare Manager, attended to present an initial background paper on what the Council could do to help stop children arriving at school with below average levels of cognition and behaviour.

 

Carol made the initial point that whilst good quality early years provision was important for enhancing behavioural and cognitive outcomes, it was only part of a broader picture that included a good early years home learning environment.

 

Carol continued to outline the service that the Council provided. She noted that the Council was responsible for securing sufficient childcare to enable children to access their 2/3/4 year olds Free Early Education Entitlement and to enable parents to access work and training. This early years provision could be delivered by a range of settings such as childminders, day nurseries, maintained nurseries or crèches. A list of settings is provided to the Council via Ofsted and all providers and children in receipt of the Free Entitlement were known to the Council. Carol noted that of the provision that delivered the Free Entitlement, over 78% was ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.

 

Carol explained that since Local Government Reorganisation, the Early Years service had become more focused and targeted. This was achieved by using data and impact measures to direct work to those areas most requiring support. Carol reported that the service also provided a variety of training for all practitioners and that this helped to ensure high quality support in settings.

 

Carol made reference to the recent Plymouth case, the lessons from which had led the Council to make changes to its safeguarding processes. Part of this was to ensure that all settings that had a contract with the Council completed and submitted a safeguarding audit. The service was also planning to follow this up by awarding a safer Cheshire East kite mark to those settings that met a safeguarding criterion.

 

Mark added that another key focus for the service was to provide training to practitioners to work with parents. Carol drew attention to the fact that the service’s Quality Support Training programme had been taken on by Whitehall as an example of good practice.

 

It was commented that it was pleasing to see the positive results that the service had achieved and how dedicated and passionate Carol and Mark were about achieving positive outcomes for the Borough’s children.

 

It was queried whether the service was funded from the Direct Schools Grant (DSG). Mark confirmed that for the 3 to 4 year olds there was a statutory entitlement and therefore this was funded through the DSG. In terms of the 2 year old, this was not yet statutory and consequently it was funded from the un-ring fenced Early Intervention Grant. Mark added that when 2 year old provision became statutory in 2015 then the funding would be provided by the DSG.

 

It was questioned how the figure of 78% for ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ provision  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.

8.

School Finance Update pdf icon PDF 94 KB

To consider a report of the Strategic Director of Children, Families and Adults.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Debbie Torjussen, Principal Accountant, attended to provide the Committee with an update on two areas relating to school finance. Firstly, she provided a summary of the government’s most recent funding reforms for schools, proposed for implementation from April 2013.

 

Debbie explained that the implications of the proposals for reforming schools funding would have a significant impact on all schools. One of the major changes was how the Council would be expected to allocate lump sums to schools. Debbie reported that the current arrangement was to provide up to £60k to primary schools and £360k for secondary schools. Under the new arrangements the DfE would expect that one lump sum (between £100k-£150k) would be attributable to all schools at the same rate. It was suggested the implications of this change be included in the scheduled paper on the school organisation plan as it could potentially effect whether the Council had the most efficient allocation of school places.

 

Debbie continued to outline changes to deprivation funding, funding for pupils with high needs and early years funding. Each area had its own workstream and associated timeframe. It was suggested that a Members training event could be arranged to go through the potential impacts of these changes in more detail

 

Debbie moved on to summarise the Borough’s schools balances at the end of 2011/12. She noted that the balances at the end of 2011/12 were £14.962m. Debbie explained that it was not surprising that schools had held back balances in light of some uncertainty in terms of future funding. Having said this, Debbie stated that the Council was attempting to encourage schools to use funds for children currently in the system. If a large surplus in terms of schools balances remained, Debbie confirmed that the Council would monitor this and take appropriate action.

 

RESOLVED –

 

a)    That the Committee endorse the approach outlined in the paper in respect of changes to schools funding and the impact on Cheshire

 

b)    That the implications of the proposed changes to lump sum allocation be included in the scheduled school organisation plan paper.

 

c)    That a Member training event be arranged to go through the potential impacts of the government’s recent funding reforms for schools.

9.

Foster Carer Capital Support Policy pdf icon PDF 113 KB

To consider a report of the Strategic Director of Children, Families and Adults.

Minutes:

Gill Betton, Policy and Strategy Manager and Julie Lewis, Principal Manager Cared for Children, presented a report which sought endorsement from the Committee to the proposed policy for foster carers to access capital funding to expand or maintain existing placements.

 

Gill continued to expand on and explain the proposed policy noting that it was in line with a recommendation from the Foster Services Task and Finish Review. It was hoped that the policy would help to unblock barriers preventing the Council from recruiting more in-Borough placements and expanding on existing placements. This would then reduce the Council’s reliance on expensive out-of-Borough and private placements.  Gill reported that whilst there was some risk for the Council in pursuing the policy, these had been adequately checked by legal and finance and in summary there was a strong cost benefit to the policy.

 

A comment was made with regards to bullet point 4 on page 47 of the agenda regarding individuals having to pay tax on a grant. It was asserted that it was unfortunate that people would be left out of the pocket and it was asked whether a solution to this could be found. Gill Betton confirmed that she would look into this further and report back to the Committee.

 

A discussion was held over the principle of the policy. Councillor Louise Brown suggested that the £250k allocated for the proposed policy would be better spent on recruiting more foster carers rather than extending existing carer’s homes. Councillor Brown also outlined a number of areas in which she felt the policy lacked the requisite legal detail.

 

Julie Lewis noted that this was not an either/or policy and that the Council would still be attempting to recruit new foster carers. Gill added that the budget for the policy would come from capital funding and therefore could not be used for recruitment. Gill also ensured the Committee that the legal detail did sit behind the policy.

 

The Chairman stated that the salient point in the proposed policy was that foster carers would have to demonstrate a business case outlining how there would be a substantiated cost benefit to the Council. If this was adhered to, he contended, the risk to the Council would be minimised whilst providing a very clear benefit.

 

It was also commented that the policy should be kept as simple as possible so that some flexibility would be retained for the officers making the decisions on whether a grant or loan should be provided to an individual.

 

The Committee voted to endorse the policy. Councillor Louise Brown wished to place on record her objections and that she would have wanted to see more detail on the policy before voting.

 

RESOLVED –

 

a)    That the Committee endorse the proposed outline of the policy set out in Appendix 1 to the report.

 

b)    That the Committee receive an update report six months after the policy implementation.

 

10.

Work Programme update pdf icon PDF 67 KB

To consider the work programme.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Members considered the work programme. Reference was made to an earlier discussion regarding the establishment of an early years working group. It was agreed to set this up but it was suggested that email be sent to the Committee Members regarding membership as there was a number of Councillors absent who may wish to participate.

 

Mark Grimshaw also made reference to the budget task group, a sub group of the Corporate Scrutiny Committee, which had invited representation from each Scrutiny Committee as non-participatory observers. It was suggested that Mark Grimshaw send an email to the Committee Members asking for a volunteer.

 

In light of the recent Audit and Governance report into Lyme Green it was suggested that the Committee receive a report on the current capital projects under the aegis of the Children’s service detailing their current budgetary position.

 

It was also requested that the Committee receive an update report on the replacement electronic recording system. It was suggested that such a report include information on:

 

-        The procurement process

-        Work that was being done to improve the current system and ensuring a smooth transition

-        Approximate costs of the new system and justification/value for money

 

RESOLVED –

 

a)    That the work programme be noted

 

b)    That an early years working group be established and that the Scrutiny Officer email Committee Members requesting an expression of interest for participation.

 

c)    That the Scrutiny Officer email Committee Members requesting an expression of interest for the Committee’s representative on the budget task group.

 

d)    That a report on the current capital projects under the aegis of the Children’s Service and their budgetary position be requested for the next scheduled meeting.

 

e)    That an update report on the replacement electronic recording system be requested for the next scheduled meeting. That this report include information on:

 

·                The procurement process

·                Work that was being done to improve the current system and ensuring a smooth transition

·                Approximate costs of the new system and justification/value for money