When will the climate emergency be discussed? : Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Committee, June 2021

The focus remained on the impact of COVID at June’s Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee. But our reporter Mike Franks also spotted the start of efforts to get climate breakdown on the agenda too.

Chair Councillor Julie Reid (Gorton and Abbey Hey) checked there was no urgent business, appeals or interests to declare, and minutes of the previous meeting in May were approved.  

Amanda Corcoran (Director of Education) introduced Item 5: Update on impact of COVID 19 on children and families with a focus on family poverty. Disappointingly in relation to the Our Manchester Strategy’s desired outcome of a liveable and low carbon city, the paper also displays a disregard for its importance to young people (as reported on before more than once) and is happy that it ‘increases the liability of the City’. Should do better.  

 Cllr Reid, concerned by rising numbers, echoed the worry that we may have further difficulties before the summer holidays and cited cases of teachers very ill with COVID yet expected to teach remotely.  

Paul Marshall (Strategic Director for Children and Education Services) introduced the report (item 6) on The Lodge – Foyer Model Accommodation emphasising the Council’s commitment to young people especially the progress of care leavers to living independently.  

 (Item 7) Paul Marshall also introduced the report on Early Years – Tendered Day-care Settings (also heard under Resources and Governance) picking up the theme for the future of young people to be safe, happy, healthy and successful, starting in their formative early years with access to high quality settings for the under fours.  

(Item 8) Reestablishment of the Ofsted Subgroup set out the terms of reference of the subgroup to cover early years, schools, children’s services and inspections. Cllr Lovecy stated that she would be very willing to chair the subgroup with Cllrs Hewitson, Foley, Nunney, Bano as members. 

(Item 9) Overview Report offered more of interest than some previous meetings, with indication that it is still possible to add items to the Committee’s work programmes and appetite from some councillors to get climate on to the agenda. Cllr Reid requested suggestions for future agenda items, in addition to early years, and Cllr Nunney proposed mitigation of the effects of climate breakdown.  

Cllr Reid then then spoke about forthcoming changes to lower emissions business vehicles and pollution close to schools (yet not effecting private cars) and showed surprise that many young people she met that morning were concerned about pollution. Your correspondent recalls concerns being voiced twenty-five years ago as part of the Manchester Indicators Project involving children and young people across the city when high numbers of asthma cases were detected in an exhaust sink (in streets below Cheetham Hill).  

 For fuller details of items discussed, questions asked and answers given, please see the longer version of this report. 

Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee meeting 23-06-2021: Longer version

Chair Councillor Julie Reid (Gorton and Abbey Hey) checked there was no urgent business, appeals or interests to declare, and minutes of the previous meeting in May were approved.

Amanda Corcoran (Director of Education) introduced Item 5: Update on impact of COVID 19 on children and families with a focus on family poverty. Disappointingly in relation to the desired outcome of a liveable and low carbon city in the Our Manchester Strategy, this paper also displays a disregard for its importance to young people (as reported on before more than once) and is happy that it ‘increases the liability of the City’. Should do better. However, the paper highlights the impact of COVID on children’s education and family poverty as well as work to mitigate this particularly in provision of food. COVID infection rates in schools have continued to increase, along with numbers of pupils self-isolating. As of last Friday, 257 positive COVID cases across the city (including 214 children) have resulted in 5,722 children being sent home to self-isolate. All Greater Manchester local authorities are now designated Enhanced Response Areas.

Cllr Jill Lovecy (Rusholme) asked whether there is a way to reduce the numbers self-isolating. Liam Duffy (co-opted member) wondered whether support from Public Health can be offered locally to Head Teachers. Cllr Linda Foley (Didsbury East) asked whether any Manchester schools are involved in government track and trace pilots, raising the inconsistency between schools where for instance pupils with a negative PCR test are still sent home for a week to self-isolate, and is concerned that reduced attendance figures in Manchester schools will impact negatively in future Ofsted inspections.

Amanda Corcoran responded that two schools are part of the national trial where close contacts are not sent home but pupils take daily lateral flow tests on site, although no data as yet. All schools receive regular information updates sometimes three in a week as guidance changes. Schools have done a really good job, yet some inconsistencies arise from size of bubble (is it a year group, subject or class group?) and also from how rigorously schools determine the close contacts of a COVID positive pupil. Close liaison has been maintained with, and support received from Manchester’s Public Health. Schools can help promote vaccination in their communities and High Schools are exploring the possibility of PCR tests through mobile testing units. Ofsted inspections can be deferred but it key that they are reminded of how COVID adversely affected Manchester schools in the autumn beyond the national lockdowns. It is possible to look at attendance across particular communities as data is collected by schools.

Cllr Garry Bridges (Executive Member for Children’s Services) commented that the questions asked highlight the difficult position of Manchester schools during COVID, and the fact that the government has not done enough to support schools, as illustrated by the School’s Commissioner recently resigning due to insufficient funds being allocated. Mass testing may help, yet government expects schools to do that themselves.

Dr W Omara (Parent Governor Representative) cited disruption caused to self-isolating pupils who may or may not receive online tuition whilst others are taught face to face.

Amanda Corcoran stated that schools should provide remote learning for pupils at home due to self-isolation, although that does not have to be digital.

Cllr Amna Abdullatif (Ardwick) shared concerns regarding a perceived lack of urgency about increasing levels of infection. How can schools be used to encourage parents and families to be tested regularly? And how is the equality, diversity and inclusion theme embedded into the Family Poverty Strategy reprioritisation?

Cllr Rob Nunney (Woodhouse Park) queried how much of the £3.8m Holiday Activity and Food Fund has been allocated and whether we are making the most of it.

Angela Harrington (Director of Inclusive Economy) responded to the question on the reprioritisation of the Family Poverty Strategy, the ‘equality, diversity and inclusion’ theme had been identified prior to COVID. Further intelligence of particularly hard-hit areas within the city has been gained and will be the focus of efforts. This intelligence and theme will be embedded within the Skills and Labour Market Recovery as well.

£560k has so far been allocated from the Holiday Activity and Food Fund for Easter delivery. Linking with partners across the city: schools, youth and play, sport and leisure, private providers and supplementary schools makes best use of HAF funding and maximises the use of match funding which partners can access, ensuring that young people have enriching activities with a food element alongside. Support including nutritional advice and training around safeguarding, equality and diversity is offered. Applications for funding from some ninety providers across the city for summer activities closed last week These activities will be matched with the free swimming and youth play offers, and other charity funded playschemes. Conversations are ongoing with businesses to seek sustainable funding beyond March next year. A report on the spread of HAF summer activities across the city will be brought to committee in July.

Cllr Reid concerned by rising numbers, echoed the worry that we may have further difficulties before the summer holidays, citing cases of teachers very ill with COVID yet expected to teach remotely. Amanda Corcoran mentions that in a conversation last week with a colleague from Bolton about what has worked, onsite testing in schools had a really big impact in reducing transmission. We’re asking schools to reinstate onsite tests, and exploring the possibility of mobile testing units for whole school tests, as more asymptomatic positive cases have been detected than before.

Paul Marshall (Strategic Director for Children and Education Services) introduces the report (item 6) on The Lodge – Foyer Model Accommodation emphasising commitment to young people especially the progress of care leavers to living independently. The Council is working with social housing providers for good quality affordable accommodation meeting needs of young people. The Foyer model helps transition towards independence. The report outlines a funding model and will go to Executive at the end of June for a decision. Feedback from a community consultation carried out by our partner Mosscare St Vincent, has been positive.

Cllr Bridges commented that Council should be proud of this is as one of a number of positive changes taken for care leavers over the last five years.

Cllr Foley asked how we can avoid The Lodge becoming a hub for anti-social behaviour as has been the case in the past for similar facilities. Cllr Abdullatif found the report is positive, and asks whether the Greater Manchester evidence base referred to in the paper can be shared. Cllr Susan Cooley (Brooklands) also commended the Foyer model and comments that these good news stories can be used to overcome stigma sometimes associated with care leavers.

Paul Marshall suggested that building the resilience of vulnerable young people with support from trusted professionals and working with the community and through the complex safeguarding hub should alleviate problems. More importantly is how the Council work with young people to ensure they are ready to move on. Welcoming the positive comments, the Council wishes to support young people to be successful in their adulthood. Sharing of the evidence base will be explored along with examples of work experience schemes.

Cllr Lovecy welcomed the approach of working with social housing providers, asks how are we connect young people with this provision, especially for those from outside Manchester. Paul Marshall commented on the range of choice developed for young people over the last few years. The council will work closely with the housing options team, social landlords, and the private sector to get the best option for our young people.

(Item 7) Paul Marshall introduced the report on Early Years – Tendered Day-care Settings (also heard under Resources and Governance) picking up the theme for the future of young people to be safe, happy, healthy and successful, starting in their formative early years with access to high quality settings for the under fours. Over recent years with support for providers we have seen a marked improvement in the quality of settings in Manchester. The report sets out an overview of the tendered day-care model within Council owned buildings.

Cllr Bridges added that the paper has taken a lot of work over recent years and with COVID a number of nurseries have been struggling with underfunding by government for more hours of ‘free childcare’. This threatens the stability of a number of good day-care providers in the city and thus it has become a key strategic priority.

Cllr Abdullatif sought clarity on whether it is adverse effects of COVID on day-care settings or a long-term revision of the tendering process. Paul Marshall replied that the process began before COVID, yet its effects have compromised more vulnerable providers. Cllr Reid requested a future paper on all early years provision across the city not just in council owned buildings.

Cllr Tina Hewitson (Ardwick) raised concern about some private nurseries run from homes in her ward. Paul Marshall points to Ofsted registration and inspections which cover quality of learning and building conditions, and adds that a range of locally accessible choices is key. Being adaptable and listening to early years providers will help to ensure children are ready for schools.

(Item 8) Re-establishment of the Ofsted Subgroup to cover early years, schools, children’s services and inspections. Cllr Lovecy stated that she would be very willing to chair the subgroup with Cllrs Hewitson, Foley, Nunney, Bano as members.

(Item 9) Overview Report, in addition to Early Years, Cllr Reid requested other suggestions for future agenda items. Cllr Nunney proposes mitigation of the effects of climate breakdown. Cllr Reid mentions a conversation with Cllr Lee-Ann Igbon (Chair of the Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee) who wants C&YP to look at the involvement of schools in the climate emergency.

Cllr Reid then then talks about forthcoming changes to lower emissions business vehicles and pollution close to schools (yet not effecting private cars) and showed surprise that many young people she met this morning were concerned about pollution. (Your correspondent can point to concerns being voiced twenty-five years ago when high numbers of asthma cases were detected in an exhaust sink, as part of the Manchester Indicators Project involving children and young people across the city.)

Cllr Abdullatif raised the PSHE (personal, social, health and economic) curriculum becoming compulsory in September, and also would like policing in schools to be a future agenda item. Cllr Reid mentioned that an item on Youth Justice came to last month’s Communities and Equalities Scrutiny and would overlap with, but not necessarily sit with C&YP.

 

Cllr Lovecy requests a future item on alternative provision in schools such as Manchester PRU.  Cllr Cooley suggests that CAHMS (child and adolescent mental health services) could be revisited by C&YP as well as Health. Paul Marshall suggests that members may be interested in the mental health in schools programme under the i-THRIVE hub.

Cllr Reid asks for other suggestions to be sent through for items to be added to the list.

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