Today was the regular meeting of the scrutiny committee that Cllr Ian Manning attends as part of his council duties (each member attends at least one Scrutiny committee)
Public Speaking slot
The first item was a public speaking slot from Mr David Carrington who spoke about the SEND (Special Education Needs & Disability – ie the strategy to meet the needs of pupils with one or more probelms in those areas) strategy.
His contention was that there are reliable ways of identifying dyslexic children at an early age and these are not being used in all schools. Questions from the committee tried to pin down what Mr Carrington wanted changed, why schools weren’t adopting what he regarded as best practise already.
He identified Hampshire as having adopted the programme already and claimed a programme (“Lucid”) which cost £8 / child could screen children around 6 years old for dyslexia reliably.
The committee agreed that his proposals would be forwarded to cabinet and the committee could then follow up the response.
Item 8: SEND Strategy
On Tuesday the Government released new national proposals for SEND – these will have an impact on the strategy which the officers are still trying to evaluate. On several points officers stated that some imprecise statements in the strategy were due to this.
The action plan identifies 6 Children’s centres as SEND ‘hubs’ – committee questions discovered these are geographically dispersed and a list was requested. There were concerns about the distance parents might have to travel given the small number of these hubs.
Lib Dem Cllr Lucy Nesthinga asked specifically about whether sufficient resource exists to produce the better outcomes desired.
There was also discussion around the best use of Teaching Assistant time: it was pointed out that the best outcomes often come from strategies that are designed to make children more indepdent.
SEND covers a massive range, from children with mild problems, to those that require 24*7 support for their whole lives.
Whilst children at the extreme end are easy to identify those with milder problems are much harder to reliably identify.
Concern was expressed about the relationship between Academies and Local Authorities and the influence the latter can have on the former.
As the actions in the trategy would not take place for at least another year, the next reporting would be in 18 months time.
Item 9 – The Business Case for the Fenland (new) County School
This was mostly a positive presentation about this school. Conservative Cllr Hoy who is the chair of the local town council planning committee, mentioned that there was very little objection to the plan locally.
Cllr Manning asked whether LGSS was being considered as a ICT provider, given the success of LGSS recently. The project director confirmed that this was an option being considered now.
Item 11 – Impact of funding cuts to the ESLAC (Educational Support services for Looked After Children)
This was an interesting item talking about the practical impact of cuts on a service. For example, individual teachers were now dealing with 69 children each, up from 31.
Cllr Manning questioned the IT system behind it, which officers reported is a customised bespoke system costing £30,000. As usual the danger was of IT systems that weren’t tied up or reporting that wasn’t done consistently across different schools.
It was agreed a task and finish group would be set up to look at how the IT was being used, to which Cllr Manning would be a member.
Items 11 & 12 – Procurement of new schools
Key questions here:
Who should develop a school? The County or the developer of the development which it will serve? [normally this would be the County, but often developers were now interested in doing this]
How to keep to the developer to it’s agreements?
How to keep within national and EU procurement rules to avoid legal challenge?
The first is a key point and promoted lively debate around the principles here – a classic open free market argument from some of the Conservatives, versus the current framework which has a time limited ‘preferred developers’ approach.
Lib Dem Cllr Sue Gymer took the committee back to more educational and involvement led issues: making sure potential parents and parish councils are involved in the decision making process.
She highlighted that the local authority should be very careful to ensure the location of the school is appropriate for the families who attend those schools – and that these would not necessarily be concerns for developers.
Officers highlighted that potential bidders would present to open meetings in the local area.
Committee agreed to produce a report to be circulated to members.
Item 13 – The MARU (Multi Agency Referral Unit)
As it sounds, a multi agency working framework to deal with difficult individuals, whose problems cut across traditional agency responsibilities.
This was a success story in one respect – that Peterborough had recently joined the partnership.
Cllr Manning again dug into the IT system underpinning and found problems of data sharing again, something he will follow up.