Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee meeting 10th Mar 2021 – Zero carbon reporting up 100%, but no still no discussion

Mike Franks tuned into March’s Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee for CEM. He has produced another sterling effort with a double version bulletin below – all part of Operation Scrutiny

We’ve got two editions one shorter and one extended this month from Mike.

What was discussed (short version)?

Two references to the zero-carbon target were not discussed. One paper claimed investment in modern, energy efficient and high quality education infrastructure drives reductions in carbon across the estate of schools. Another gave an estimate of an annual emission reduction offered by a Low Carbon solution for an existing building and proposed extension, indicating potential larger savings could be made by utilising more PV panels with PIR sensors and LED lighting.

No urgent business, no appeals, minutes approved with no matters arising led Cllr Bernard Stone (BS – Levenshulme) in his last meeting as chair to introduce item 5 the ‘Wider opening of schools and colleges’ by announcing that a year six class at Alma Park was today self-isolating as someone had tested positive for COVID-19.

Amanda Corcoran (Director of Education) talked through the paper finalised last Friday which incorporated government guidance issued on 23 February. Schools were open to all pupils on Monday, with head teachers spoken to, delighted to welcome them back. This has gone really well.

Isobel Booler (Head of School Quality Assurance and Strategy SEND) introduced item 6 ‘School Governance Update’ by thanking volunteers in the governance programme. Governor recruitment has now increased with a diversity of applications.

Paul Marshall (PM – Strategic Director for Children and Young People) briefly introduced item 7 ‘Responding to the Needs of Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children and the children of Manchester who are affected by the European Union Settled Status Scheme’. Michelle Bernasconi (Service Lead Central) said a special team had been established to deliver improved outcomes for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Amanda Shah (Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit) spoke of the leadership role taken by MCC in the last year to support children affected by Brexit.

PM introduces item 8 ‘Lyndene – Remodelling and Next Steps’ touched on how significant savings could be made by remodelling the services provided at Lyndene.

Liam Duffy (co-opted member) under item 9 ‘Overview Report’ brought the committee’s attention to the plight of the Music Service. BS expressed appreciation of this very valuable service.

BS thanked officers and the committee for their support over the last three years, repeating the view that this is the best committee without a doubt.

For details of presentations, questions raised and answers given, please see the longer blog which includes contributions from Councillor Garry Bridges (Old Moat – Exec Member for Children and Schools).

What was discussed (extended version)?

Two references to the zero-carbon target were not discussed. One paper claimed investment in modern, energy efficient and high quality education infrastructure drives reductions in carbon across the estate of schools. Another gave an estimate of an annual emission reduction offered by a Low Carbon solution for an existing building and proposed extension, indicating potential larger savings could be made by utilising more PV panels with PIR sensors and LED lighting.

No urgent business, no appeals, minutes approved with no matters arising led chair Cllr Bernard Stone (BS – Levenshulme) to introduce item 5 the ‘Wider opening of schools and colleges’ by announcing that a year six class at Alma Park was today self-isolating as someone had tested positive for COVID-19.

Amanda Corcoran (AC – Director of Education) talked through the supplementary paper finalised last Friday which incorporated government guidance issued on 23 February. Primary schools were open to all pupils on Monday, with head teachers spoken to, delighted to welcome them back. Some presence of COVID marshals to prevent crowding at school gates and to ensure children knew routines. This has gone really well. Children were familiar with the mitigations which were in place when schools re-opened in September 2020. Secondary schools had a staggered start to testing pupils so that they all may be back on site by Monday 15 March. The aim is that students at secondary schools and colleges will have three Lateral Flow Tests (LFTs) on site under supervision and thereafter take two tests per week at home. Testing is not mandatory. Parents and children have to consent. Guidance is clear that students can attend school or college whether or not they participate in the testing. The other significant change is all secondary and college staff and students should wear masks in classrooms where they cannot maintain two metre distance, not needed outside, and again not mandatory. A press release without any details of funding mentioned support and the appointment of a commissioner for educational recovery. No quick fixes. We need to take time, get the children back in, understand where they are at, and consider how to support students achieve their best educational outcomes.

BS asks whether the GO NW bus strike in north Manchester adversely impacts students. AC is awaiting a reply to her letter to TfGM on safety arrangements for pupils with SEN.

Liam Duffy (LD – co-opted member) commends the report and to his knowledge how well the rota system has been handled showing resilience of all staff and good communication to families. Cllr Julie Reid (JR – Gorton and Abbey Hey) raises concerns about partial testing in secondary schools, and whether this will be monitored. Also, government’s five term year is unwelcome. Teachers have been working hard on site and online. Cllr Richard Kilpatrick (RK – Didsbury West) queries whether students may continue to access on site testing if they experience difficulties at home. AC replies that where a pupil has a positive result from an LFT they will need to self-isolate and have confirmation at a PCR testing centre. A small onsite testing facility will remain for pupils experiencing difficulties with self-testing at home. There is variability about consent to testing across schools in the city which is being monitored, data collected and looking at what can be done in areas where consent is lower than expected, working with schools, comms and neighbourhood teams. Yet to receive further information from government on additional funding for summer schools. Looking more broadly, there are other ways of providing summer provision for children on school sites with staff from leisure services and youth providers. Also, there is the holiday activities fund which can be used to provide a very good summer programme across the city.

Cllr Jill Lovecy (JL – Rusholme) wondered whether there was any detail yet regarding educational recovery funding. Was it perhaps to be by head of children on pupil premium? JR wanted to know whether children will be able to access youth centres over the summer as play and meeting each other has been restricted so far this year. BS reflected that there was still no reply to the letter sent to the PM and Secretary of State for Education and that Gavin Williamson had not yet resigned. Cllr Garry Bridges (GB – Old Moat – Exec Member for Children and Schools) wanted to be clear about the meaning of recovery, that it shouldn’t be short-term. There will be a whole range of ways in which children have missed out, varying from family to family. Chances to socialise, for physical activity will be important for many, which a narrow curriculum-based view of catch up will not help. A proper education and welfare recovery will be the focus for colleagues and this committee over the next twelve months or so. The other priority is testing, working closely with Public Health. Cllr Madeleine Monaghan (MM – Sharston) raised concerns about TAs in some primary schools working in crowded classrooms now all pupils have returned while teachers are ensured two metre distancing. Is there any standardisation of good practice? GB states the position that all staff have the right to the same consideration of their working conditions. Regular meetings with joint unions take place where issues can be discussed. The unions need to be made aware of such cases, so they can be taken up with the schools.

BS mentions that some children and young people have benefited from being at home and have progressed quite well, so it is not true to say that we need a recovery programme for all children. AC agrees. Initial conversations about developing our approach in Manchester have happened, need not to be rushed, the first job is to get the children back, working with all who can contribute. Negative language such as catch up, recovery and lost generation is not helpful to children in achieving their dreams. AC adds that the joint union meetings are important and that a dedicated person is working on this. Information and FAQs are shared with all schools including particular instances flagged up by union representatives. No details exist relating to the proposal of a five-term year. In answer to Cllr Lovecy’s question: an £83m expansion of the national tutoring programme, £102m for post-16 tuition, £18m for early years language development, £10m for a pre-reception early language programme and £200m for secondary schools to deliver summer schools. No details of how these national pots will be distributed was offered apart from an indication that an additional £6000 would be available for a primary school and for a secondary school there would be an additional £22000.

Isobel Booler (Head of School Quality Assurance and Strategy SEND) introduced item 6 ‘School Governance Update’ by thanking volunteers in the governance programme, support for governors has been through a difficult year. Governor recruitment had been poor but has now increased with a diversity of applications. JL welcomes the report acknowledging the work of the governance support unit during this period, and especially pleased to see increased numbers of governors from ethnic minority communities. How will the focus group support and help the development of parent governors, and will schools with experience in this area be used? Cllr James Wilson (JW – Didsbury East) asks whether the council could do more to use its pool as resource for schools requiring co-opted governors. Cllr Amna Abdullatif (AL – Ardwick) echoes thanks to the council team for the support and volunteers who give up their time to become governors in that important role. What learning can we take from the increase in applications from BAME backgrounds and what can be done to maintain that diversity in future years? JR would like to see more governors on Academy boards, and asks whether school governor vacancies could be given at ward level, and could LA governor vacancies be taken up by others rather than councillors. BS points out that governors are now appointed by schools, not LAs.

Ruth Bradbury (School Governance Lead) echoes thanks to governors and says she is always in awe of the amount of work they put in, particularly during the pandemic. It has been really challenging because the role has changed considerably. Talking with head teachers, the focus group will use experience from those schools where the process of elections of parent governors has worked well to support those where they may be struggling, providing a range of resources including videos. People need to hear from their own communities the benefits of becoming a school governor and what they gain from that. The intention is to bring together a group that will span that whole agenda, identify issues, provide support and listen to people about what will help.

A lot of schools including Academies have requested help with co-opted governor vacancies which reflects the good relationship built between schools and the entire directorate. Some Academies are seeking governors for the local governing body, and some are for trustees. Support available for all schools, engagement with all governors, and assistance for all appointments including the diocese. The Manchester Jobs website has increased its social media presence during the pandemic and this may partly explain an increase in the diversity of applicants for school governor vacancies. Also, a number of people are citing that they have heard in the community that school governors are being sought from a diverse background. We will need to maintain this interest, monitor it and work to retain the new governors, identify and overcome any barriers in the recruitment process. Looking at ward level will also be helpful, bringing in partners and engaging with local employers in the area. Some areas such as north Manchester struggle to fill vacancies, and also a number of governing bodies are looking for finance expertise. BS comments that he has known bank managers struggle with school finance complexities, and asserts that Manchester has the best governance service in the country.

Paul Marshall (PM – Strategic Director for Children and Young People) briefly introduced item 7 ‘Responding to the Needs of Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children and the children of Manchester who are affected by the European Union Settled Status Scheme’ and invited colleagues to present more detail. Michelle Bernasconi (MB – Service Lead Central) said a special team had been established in March 2020 to build a multi-agency offer to deliver improved outcomes for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in health (physical and mental), education (a key factor), accommodation (until 18) and when leaving care (with their personal adviser). There are 64 children under 18 eligible for the EUSS scheme, progress is being made in achieving the best outcomes for them. Amanda Shah (AM – Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit) describes the leadership role taken by MCC in the last year to support children affected by Brexit. Successful applications under the scheme must be made before the end of June 2021, otherwise immigrant children and young people will be in the UK unlawfully. How can the amazing work over the last year be embedded to continue to support them beyond the deadline?

BS received a message from Afzal Khan MP yesterday, asking that this committee supports the updated pledge, and that BS feels confident the committee will concur. Cllr Zahra Alijah (ZA – Fallowfield) suggests in this even more hostile environment it is important to support children by signing the updated pledge, and to raise our voices to condemn the government treatment of these vulnerable young people, and we continue to support them beyond the deadline. RK asks how long some children have been awaiting a decision, especially from the Home Office, and how CAMHS support will continue. JR agrees to signing the pledge but feels politicians should do more to protect these children beyond the deadline, and for those whose applications had been declined. Cllr Susan Cooley (SC – Brooklands) remarks on the work of wonderful foster carers in supporting, nurturing and emotionally healing. GB condemns government treatment of these vulnerable young people, thanks Michelle, Amanda and others for their work, and is proud to hear Amanda describe the example set in Manchester as a national leader. GB stresses support for those whose applications have been refused, and welcomes the suggestions in the updated pledge. The Windrush scandal has shown immigration status should be embedded as part of permanent planning for all young people. JL requests information by ward: successful cases, those awaiting decisions and refusals, so councillors can intervene to support them. JL also supports the updated pledge.

PM acknowledges the statement by ZA, frames responses to other questions raised, and states in answer to JL that it would be difficult to give individual personal information, but officer commitment in an advocacy and advisory role continues to those young people who may fall foul of the deadline.  AS reiterates the wisdom of setting this within the context of the hostile environment, and states the way the EUSS scheme is set up makes it difficult for people with disrupted life histories to apply and causes delay. COVID has made that a lot harder exacerbating flaws already in the scheme. A small number of young people will be rejected on grounds of suitability which means they have had a history of youth offending some of which will not be significant, but leading to applications stalling at the HO. The GMIAU will produce a report this week covering young unaccompanied asylum seekers whose applications have been delayed largely due to COVID as the system ground to a halt. There are 75 children who have been waiting over six months for an interview, and the average time has been over a year. It looks as though remote interviewing may begin in Manchester as the impact has been devastating: thoughts of self-harm, high levels of insomnia and depression for many children. MB referred to the successful partnership with CAMHS, carrying out life story work with all children which helps to understand their journey to the UK. In some cases, compiling a booklet avoids repeating often traumatic stories. A child centred view of the professionals they are likely to encounter is drawn to help them understand the processes. Work with the Red Cross helps find family members elsewhere in the world. BS thanks contributors, takes encouragement from the positive comments about their life in Manchester reported by children, and committee accepts the recommendations in the reports.

PM introduces item 8 ‘Lyndene – Remodelling and Next Steps’ previously raised in the budget setting process and the request for more detail of how significant savings could be made by remodelling the services provided at Lyndene. The report describes a very different values-based approach taken to commissioning in Children’s Services, and relationships with providers. More importantly using intelligence and understanding of the communities served, and profiles of children requiring care and/or support and looking at the challenges to fill service gaps. Very much partnership working with parent champions to develop short breaks so that children remain within their families and communities and with access to health provision and care.

Sarah Austin (SA – Strategic Commissioning Lead Children’s Services) agrees the report is not about saving money per se, it is about doing the right thing. Families where children may have autism or learning difficulties tell us they require more support locally. This provision builds confidence and support for eighty families in the first year. Also looking to include foster carers facing challenges with young people with complex needs who would benefit from respite care and the building of confidence and knowledge through meeting a cohort of young people. The partnership with CAMHS allows a much more integrated planning and support model across social care. Behavioural support plans developed and overseen by CAMHS will be delivered through a social care model allowing families fluid access to a service. As equal partners jointly designed and commissioned with health, it provides an integrated offer that we are embracing and wish to expand across other areas. Lyndene is currently being refurbished and will initially be for under 18s, but with a view to increasing the upper age limit for the service to 25.

SC asks whether families will have input into governance and the running of the service as it important for confidence and trust. Also, is there place for a councillor in the governance, possibly as part of the corporate parenting capacity? JR queries whether there is scope for respite at The Grange, the cost of out-of-area placements, what savings can be made, and is there sufficient foster care capacity. Overall a great plan. JL commends the plan saying it is symbolic of what we’ve wanted to create for Children’s Services, but would like to know current numbers of out-of-area placements. SC would like to know the criteria to be used, potential numbers of young people between 18 and 25 who may be accommodated in future, and the connective working and transition process between Children’s and Adult Services. GB recognises the importance of families being able to shape plans, and that some figures are available in the monthly corporate parenting panel reports.

Sean McKendrick (Deputy Director of Children’s Services) committed to co-production and the involvement of families in the design and ongoing governance of the service. We know we require a holistic multi agency response, a blend of assertive outreach and respite facilities. We also have an effective multi agency resource panel and have been able to reduce residential placements by 10% last year. We are working with colleagues in Adult Services to establish transition processes, and the development could well be the subject of a future paper to this committee. AC answering the question of use of The Grange, says respite was initially part of the plan, but because it was a school site there were challenges to its registration. Demand for special school places has increased across the city, and the space at The Grange which had been designed as flats is now very well used for sixth form provision.

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