Schools Out and Manchester’s Year of the Child Beckons: Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Committee, July 2021

The focus at July’s Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee was on children in need of help and summer activities provision. Our Team SF reporter Mike Franks also spotted a couple of specks showing that children are concerned about climate change and want to get on and start growing things in Ardwick as well as socialise, play and put COVID behind them.

Chair Councillor Julie Reid (Gorton and Abbey Hey) checked there was no urgent business, appeals. Cllr Zahra Alijah (Fallowfield) declared her interest as chair of a youth project in ‘unused provision’. Minutes of the previous meeting in June were approved.

Sean McKendrick (Deputy Director of Education) introduced (Item 5) Responding to Children in Need of Help, Support and Protection. A slide show was provided and talked to at great length. Perhaps the Chair could note how Health Scrutiny Committee, that very morning, take it as read that committee members know the content of a presentation or paper. Given discussion at May’s C&YP SC, members will no doubt be interested in how Lauren Harwood (Project Manager for ACEs and trauma informed practice) whisked through, skipping slides, emphasising key points in an informative and engaging manner. What a contrast. (See https://vimeo.com/572054774 1hr24m-1h36m).

Cllr Garry Bridges (Executive Member for Children’s Services) introduces (Item 6) ‘Manchester’s Year of the Child’ by saying “what a fantastic and positive thing this is for the city”. Cllr Reid sums up the discussion and reads out the recommendations including expressing interest to be a part of UNICEF’s Child Friendly City Initiative.

(Item 7) Ways of Working Overview, Sean McKendrick treated members with another slide show.

(Item 8) Amanda Corcoran gave an oral update on COVID. Watch this space to see what happens over the summer.

(Item 9) Lisa Harvey-Nebil (Head of Youth Strategy and Engagement) introduces the report on ‘Youth and Play Fund Summer Provision’. Because of the HAF (Holiday Activities and Food) programme funding there is more provision this available year. Invited by Cllr Reid to contribute to this discussion Cllr June Hitchen (Miles Platting and Newton Heath) gives an impassioned address asserting that FSM figures are suspect. As Miles Platting and Newton Heath has no high school, 70% of their secondary-age students go to a school outside the city and are thus missed from the Manchester figures for FSM. (Recommended viewing 2:06:20 – 2:16:30 https://vimeo.com/572055580).

(Item 10) Overview Report is not discussed. Cllr Reid states the next meeting is not until September, and asks members to email her with future items.

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. Cllr Zahra Alijah (Fallowfield) declared her interest as chair of a youth project in ‘unused provision’. Minutes of the previous meeting in June were approved.

Sean McKendrick (Deputy Director of Education) introduced (Item 5) Responding to Children in Need of Help, Support and Protection. A slide show was provided and talked to at great length describing the ILCAS Framework (Inspecting Local Authorities Children’s Services), OFSTED’s approach, Social Work practice and other areas including Early Help.

Perhaps the Chair could note how Health Scrutiny Committee, that very morning, take it as read that committee members know the content of a presentation or paper. Given discussion at May’s C&YP SC, members will no doubt be interested in how Lauren Harwood (Project Manager for ACEs and trauma informed practice) whisked through, skipping slides, emphasising key points in an informative and engaging manner. What a contrast. (See https://vimeo.com/572054774 1hr24m-1h36m).

Cllr Alijah asks about the Parent Help Line – can any parent use it and how is it promoted? Cllr Linda Foley (Didsbury East) pleased by the impact of early interventions asks about the EOI abbreviation in the context of domestic violence, which seems to be increasing. Also, can there be a breakdown of the 90% figure of the 250 children’s files audited in the first quarter of the year, between those judged good and those requiring improvement to be good? Cllr Sean McHale (Clayton and Openshaw) asks whether the 11% of assessments not completed on time are causing a backlog, how many children does that represent? And then what is the weekly average number of children missing from education? If when they enter alternative education, do we have enough places and what quality assurance measures are in place?

Sean McKendrick responds that the Parent Line is a generic universal help line sponsored by Early Help fed through Sure Start Centres and our Starting Well Strategy, and widely known about though early years provision. Domestic violence is clearly an issue for the city in terms of the frequency of referrals to children’s social care. It could be that 40% of those referrals are ‘open’ cases not necessarily new to social care, but still a significant issue often with other complications. Sean stressed there is new strategy to address domestic violence, and the existing Safer Together approach, which attempts to change the narrative about blame, challenging the view that it’s women’s fault that men abuse them. Manchester performs well in nationally in the number of assessments completed within forty-five days, yet those delayed do not have a significantly adverse impact as they form the basis of monthly checks with social workers. Cllr Reid adds that EOI refers to Events of Interest.

Amanda Corcoran (Director of Education) in respect of children missing education states there are several categories within this group which are dealt with by the school admissions team. The most straightforward group being those who have applied for a place within the school year and are awaiting a placement. Another is when children are taken off the school roll, which under current regulations means the local authority is notified. The number varies week by week. Some are children of students who have returned to their own countries. Places in alternative provision are not necessarily connected with children missing education. With over capacity in alternative provision, places are being reduced. Schools are making their own provision in school. PRU and independent assessors carry out the quality assurance of such provision. These arrangements are currently under review and in the autumn term there will be a report to scrutiny.

Cllr Jill Lovecy (Rusholme) appreciates the success of the early help hubs and asks what if any differences there may be between the three districts and how good practice is shared. Also mentioned was a pilot on contextual safeguarding, could you give us some more detail? Cllr Paula Sadler (Higher Blackley) describes bonds of trust between young people and social workers especially in residential care, and asks whether there is a transition period when a worker is given other responsibilities, as otherwise it can be very disruptive for a child.

Sean responds with a breakdown of the 250 audited children’s files he omitted from the first round of questions stating around 90 were good with 135 requiring improvement to be good. This represents things are better year on year and additionally there has been an increase in outstanding practice. Whether the hubs operate differently is difficult. An easy answer is to say the early help in social care and performance management approach is consistent across the city. Where we see particular trends or issues emerging there are opportunities for those who lead the hubs and the strategic lead to have a review of the effectiveness. Inevitably there are different issues across the city: demand for early help increased in North Manchester and we’ve looked to maintain and enhance the BIG Manchester approach, which is slowly reaching Central Manchester to tackle the ‘toxic tree of domestic violence’. Also, worth recognising that the Central Area has a larger, more diverse and larger child population than before. The increased rate of referrals seen in the North has not been replicated in the Central area, but work has begun to identify need in areas of mental health and domestic abuse. There is a set of hand-over arrangements for staff leaving the service with the best practice being where the out-going and in-coming social workers meet together with the young person regarding the plan and consistency of care, yet there are the odd exceptions where this does not occur. With regard to the GM contextual safeguarding approach, this is how we develop our resources into physical locations often looking at police intelligence in hot spots and provision of pickup and supportive diversionary activities in these areas.

Paul Marshall (Strategic Director for Children and Education Services) re-enforces the continued improvement of the child social care service since the 2014-2017 period. Assessments of the service have moved from simply being target driven to being about relationships and ensuring quality of interventions and the difference made.  Also, you’ll have a sense of how busy the service is, with many more children in need of support during the pandemic. Decisions taken over this period have put us in a good position to respond to the demand with which we’d have struggled using the previous more centralised approach. But that doesn’t mean we don’t still face important challenges. There is a commonality to our approach across the city: the busyness, how the service continues to challenge itself to do better for children and young people, and that’s where the pride and passion for what we do hopefully comes through.

Cllr Reid again commends the early help service, and raises a number of points including increasing numbers of eviction notices, whether hubs based in schools operate during holidays, health visitors during COVID, a lack of NHS dentist registrations, and the important example of Alonzi House.

Cllr Garry Bridges (Executive Member for Children’s Services) introduces (Item 6) ‘Manchester’s Year of the Child’ by saying there had been discussion at Exec and members may have been to briefings. Garry takes the opportunity to say “what a fantastic and positive thing this is for the city”. Children in Manchester have missed more school over the last eighteen months than anywhere else in the country because of the high levels of COVID infections. We want to recognise that children in the city by and large have been very resilient and what has been asked of them has been extraordinary. We want to thank them, and start the process of paying them back. Although betrayed by government’s response to the report by Sir Kevan Collins, a meagre offer of what they are prepared to fund within its narrow ambition and scope, Manchester instead wanted to rally everyone behind a common purpose and a positive vision for the city next year. This is not just MCC Children’s Services but all our partners and businesses across the city with children at the heart of the recovery. We propose to build a legacy of ‘a child friendly city’. Much engagement with young people is under way, as we don’t want to assume we know what young people are thinking. What has come out strongly so far is that young people want the opportunity to have fun, play and socialise, see their friends. There is a small steering group of people from across the council with loads of ideas for a programme of activities. We will report back on the engagement over the summer, and then consult with them again in the autumn.

Cllr Reid recalls comments from children she has met recently, including getting rid of COVID.

Cllr Tina Hewitson (Ardwick) describes the experiences of her grand-children. It’s been hard for them all. In Ardwick a piece of land has been allocated by the council for a community garden, but the children still can’t get go in. They are thinking about climate change and growing their own vegetables, which will be great. Cllr Alijah is interested in the outcomes of the consultation with young people and asks whether the results will be available at ward level and within what timescale. Cllr Foley refers to the botched system used last year to assess grades for A-levels and GCSEs, is really concerned as to how we can support school leaders and teachers this year anticipating a large number of challenges and appeals. It has anyway been so stressful for teachers and school leaders during the pandemic. How can we support their mental health?

Amanda Corcoran considers the situation differs from last year, with incredibly robust procedures in place in schools. Schools will know this week if exam boards query any of their grading assessments. There are also clear appeals procedures in place, so parents and young people are encouraged to use them. Liam Duffy (Co-opted member) applauds head of departments and teaching staff for putting in significantly large numbers of unpaid hours to achieve the grade assessments which exam boards are still paid to do. The mental health of those overworked teachers needs to be taken seriously. Liam is also shocked by increased teacher redundancies across the city during the pandemic. Cllr Amna Abdullatif (Ardwick) welcomes the opportunity for young people to take decisions in the Year of the Child.

Paul Marshall states there is every confidence in school staff, teachers and leaders. It is to be applauded how well children have responded to our focus of keeping children in schools wherever possible. We have to recognise children are worried about their future, and we must hear from them in the Year of the Child. During the autumn term we will collate responses to the engagement with young people so far and reach schools not yet involved. This will then be reported back to full council. We do want the engagement to be ongoing. The Manchester Youth Council are involved but we have to reach out to all young people. A massive exciting challenge. It is really important if we are to be a truly child friendly city then young people have to be at the heart of our decision making at all levels. We will do an expression of interest to UNICEF to work with us as part of this initiative. It may not be possible to give ward level reports, as we want to reflect views across the city and will be engaging around schools. Accessibility (financial and transport) is an issue that has come to the fore. Early years, the skills for life agenda, work experience, having fun are all part the thinking.

Cllr Reid sums up the discussion and reads out the recommendations including expressing interest to be a part of UNICEF’s Child Friendly City Initiative.

(Item 7) Ways of Working Overview, Sean McKendrick treating members with another slide show mentions there were less office-based carbon emissions when staff were working from home, most have enjoyed the hybrid working arrangements and their improved work-life balance. To support an agile workforce, a set of flexible working principles and responsibilities has been produced in consultation with staff.

Cllr Rob Nunney (Woodhouse Park) asks if there is an intention to reduce office space.

Cllr Alijah asks if the consultation process included staff who had been isolating.

Sean states there are no immediate plans to reduce building size but wishes to create an employee friendly environment, adjusting layout of desks, more space for collaborative working and quality space for private confidential conversations. A variety of methods have been used to engage the vast majority of staff. Paul Marshall reflects the presentation was very much in line with the continuous improvement of the service. COVID has posed many challenges and also opportunities taken in consultation with staff. Agile working has always been seen as supporting the interests and outcomes of children and young people. Listening to staff and understanding is key to staff retention.

Cllr Lovecy stresses the importance of building on what has been seen as good working practice during the pandemic and comments from her experience from a recent visit to the Central hub, that there are set times for team-working, social interaction and support. Cllr Bridges comments that the exploration of agile working was begun pre-COVID, is not about reducing desk space in the office, and recognises importance of staff interaction and team spirit. Cllr Reid comments on the importance of suitable IT, that residential social workers and others such as office-cleaners have no choice as to where they work.

(Item 8) Amanda Corcoran gives an oral update on COVID recognises this is the last day of term for most Manchester schools and thanks school setting and college leaders and their staff for resilience during this most professionally challenging year. Thanks to the children and young people for their forbearance and to their parents and carers for their support. Over this last term despite continuing high COVID rates very few Manchester schools have had to completely close (for a couple of days only). Manchester’s local track and trace system will still be in place in September despite changes in government guidelines. Watch this space to see what happens over the summer.

Liam Duffy comments many head teachers have contacted him and taken teacher union guidelines for support and clarity where the DfE has been negligent.

(Item 9) Lisa Harvey-Nebil (Head of Youth Strategy and Engagement) gives a brief introduction to the report on ‘Youth and Play Fund Summer Provision’ outlining the report is in two parts: data collection from youth and play commissioning in 2020-2021, and secondly an update on this summer’s play provision. You will see we have received over ninety applications from a wide range of providers: schools, youth and play. Updated maps of the provision will be distributed to ward councillors by the end of the week. Because of the HAF (Holiday Activities and Food) programme funding there is more provision this available year.  

Invited to speak by Cllr Reid, Alex Kennedy (elected member of the Youth Parliament for Manchester Central) asks about equality in access to funds for grass-roots projects providing summer activities and also what is done to ensure equal funding of wards across the city. Cllr Alijah comments that youth and play provision has always been important, asks for more clarity on how the data presented in the report has been compiled and why there are differences between wards. Cllr McHale asks about the four hubs across the city, from his experience working in the youth service, many young people will not cross boundaries.

Lisa responds Young Manchester carried out analysis at the beginning of the contract based on needs of children and young people across the city. Wards were ranked by deprivation, education levels, and Free School Meals (FSM) with funding allocated on that premise. There is an ongoing review which will report in September. There are now area youth leads with an allocation of funding designed to work with grass-roots organisations.  Data returns are collected from all funded projects, with return visits seen as a key statistic. More needs to be done to even up attendance of girls with that of boys for instance. Keeping older teenagers engaged is recognised as important. Data returned from the hubs show where young people attending live. They will cross boundaries if the provision is right. Transport links need to be good and young people need to feel safe. National guidelines state that young people live within a twenty-minute safe travel journey of a youth provision and asserts that is the case for all young people in Manchester.

Cllr Hewitson comments that young people from Ardwick didn’t want to travel to Gorton, taken to the hub once, they did not want to go again because they did not feel safe crossing boundaries. Indeed, some do not wish to cross to the other side of their estate. Cllr Alijah comments that youth engagement figures low in Fallowfield ward, asks what can be done to improve this. Cllr Lovecy wants to know which hubs are successful in attracting young people from across ward boundaries and how we can ensure a bigger uptake of provision. Cllr Reid states this has been going round and around, recognises the need for ward-level data and ward co-ordination, wants expertise of local councillors added to needs analysis, and is emphatic about young people not being willing to cross ‘territories’.

Invited by Cllr Reid to contribute to this discussion Cllr June Hitchen (Miles Platting and Newton Heath) gives an impassioned address asserting that FSM figures are suspect. As Miles Platting and Newton Heath has no high school, 70% of their secondary-age students go to a school outside the city and are thus missed from the Manchester figures for FSM.  There is a lack of infrastructure and services for young people in the ward. The transport network has such poor connectivity, that young people have to travel in and out of the city centre to reach neighbouring areas, failing the youth provision within twenty-minutes safe travel metric. (Recommended viewing 2:06:20 – 2:16:30 https://vimeo.com/572055580).

Cllr Bridges draws a positive from the discussion and the points raised by Cllr Hitchen. There are more activities across Manchester this summer than previously. Lisa and the team have done a really good job in starting the process of involving and informing ward councillors. The next steps for the Youth and Play Fund in commissioning universal youth services across the city will be reviewed in the autumn, and needs to be much closer to neighbourhoods and a better understanding of where there are gaps.

Lisa restates the area youth lead model in North, Central and South Manchester with a pot of funding to allocate this year to grass-roots organisations for youth provision. Making young people feel safe about crossing boundaries is a constant challenge. We have to ensure the right provision in each area that attracts young people. Ward co-ordination should make the process more robust. Attendance figures provided in the report were known to be low due to COVID restrictions. Figures from the hubs can be broken down to show from which areas young people attend. The needs analysis was done in 2016 by Young Manchester in conjunction with the city council and the lead member at the time. It definitely needs updating, and admits FSM data is provided by schools so the figures used for Cllr Hitchen’s ward were wrong. There are a number of ways the summer provision has been publicised including the ward maps and the ‘Loads to Do’ website which includes Arts and Leisure, swimming and the play offer.

Cllr Reid wraps up, citing the need for ward co-ordination, requests the revised needs analysis should be presented to ward councillors first to contribute their views, and that the ‘right’ providers are commissioned and that they are properly audited.

(Item 10) Overview Report is not discussed. Cllr Reid states the next meeting is not until September, and asks members to email her with future items.

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