Agenda and minutes

Education and Learning Scrutiny Committee
Tuesday, 9th March, 2021 10.00 am

Venue: virtually via Microsoft Teams - if you would like to attend this meeting live via Microsoft Teams please contact committee.services@blaenau-gwent.gov.uk

Contact: Democratic Services  5100

Media

Items
No. Item

1.

Simultaneous Translation

You are welcome to use Welsh at the meeting a minimum notice period of 3 working days is required should you wish to do so.  A simultaneous translation will be provided if requested.

Minutes:

It was noted that no requests had been received for the simultaneous translation service.

2.

Apologies

To receive.

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Councillors H. Trollope (Chair), G. Collier and T. Smith.

 

Co-opted Member

A. Williams

3.

Declarations of Interests and Dispensations

To consider any declarations of interests and dispensations made.

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest or dispensations reported.

 

VERBAL UPDATE - COVID-19 PANDEMIC

 

At the request of the Chair, the Corporate Director of Education provided a verbal update on the Education Directorate’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

 

The Director advised Members that the amount of positive Covid-19 incidences experienced across the County Borough had reduced to 38 per 100,000 population.  That was the stable position over the last 10 days and showed that all of the collective work had contributed to making a difference. 

 

In relation to the schools’ update there had only been one positive case in a school setting and from a workforce perspective the number of staff that were either self-isolating or had been identified as being in the shielding category was just over 20, again that was a very stable position and no significant workforce and staffing issues were being experienced across education at this juncture.  He was pleased to update Members that engagement with schools had continued to be very encouraging and schools had agreed strategic decisions and taken a common approach in terms of our response.  The Executive Planning Group meetings with Headteachers were continuing on a fortnightly basis and recently there was a move towards foundation phase learners now returning to school settings for face to face learning from 22nd January.  He advised Members that these arrangements had run smoothly with no real difficulties and this was a credit to the primary sector for the way they managed those arrangements as they move towards increasing numbers of face to face learning.  

 

Over the spring term, there was continued hub provision for both vulnerable learners and critical workers.  In the last admissions round there were approaching 460 children that continued to be supported.  Slightly worryingly, from a free school meals perspective, direct payments had increased to 1,768 learners and that excluded Foundation Phase learners, he felt that this demonstrated the economic impact locally of Covid-19 on some families across the County Borough.  The direct payments to those families had been working effectively and were reviewed on a weekly basis. 

 

From a remote blended learning perspective, there had been close liaison with colleagues in the EAS on the Celebrate, Share, Support and Refine (CSSR) pilot initiative across southeast Wales and he was pleased to report that out of Blaenau Gwent’s 25 schools, 13 were participating in that pilot, more than 50% and that was the highest proportion of any local authority area within the region.

 

From an ICT perspective the amount of devices and support for learners and families was now approaching 1,600 devices that had been issued to families where there was identified need.  The Education Transformation Manager and the team had worked closely with the SRS to ensure that support for learners was comprehensive.

 

Vaccinations for staff in special schools and those teaching and non-teaching staff in resource bases had started.  With regard to testing, lateral flow tests had been delivered over the last 10 days and the Director confirmed that  ...  view the full minutes text for item 3.

4.

Education & Learning Scrutiny Committee Minutes pdf icon PDF 261 KB

To receive the Minutes of the Education & Learning Scrutiny Committee held on the 11th February, 2021.

 

(Please note the Minutes are submitted for points of accuracy only).

Minutes:

The Minutes of the Education & Learning Scrutiny Committee Meeting held on 11th February, 2021 were submitted.

 

The Committee AGREED that the Minutes be accepted as a true record of proceedings.

5.

Action Sheet - 11th February 2021 pdf icon PDF 93 KB

To receive the Action Sheet.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The action sheet arising from the meeting of the Education & Learning Scrutiny Committee held on 11th February, 2021 was submitted, whereupon:-

 

Verbal Update – COVID-19 Pandemic

 

A Member requested a progress update in relation to the funding from WG for extra PPE equipment for schools. 

 

The Education Transformation Manager said that new PPE guidance along with training had been issued to all schools in February.  Requests for additional PPE were monitored fortnightly and all schools had sufficient provision in place for the current phase of reopening.  The training and guidance would be updated with any new or emergent updates from the Welsh Government and Public Health Wales.  WG funding had been received and allocated accordingly, and managed in line with the allocation of PPE in line with both the additional funding and the hardship fund.

 

A Member commented that a number of additional grants had been received and requested a progress update on the ALN Covid-19 support grant, the PDG access clothing grants and the EdTech programme. 

 

In relation to the ALN Covid-19 support grant and the PDG access grant, the Service Manager Inclusion said that they were working with the EAS to allocate the ALN Covid-19 support grant to schools on a per pupil basis, this should be with schools shortly.  The PDG access clothing grant had been extended until the end of June and the application process was now live on the Blaenau Gwent website.  A letter was being prepared for schools to share with parents, and some schools had already included this information on their school social media account.  Both grants were being made available either to schools or to parents.

 

A Member commented that the WG had announced £72m for education and requested a report on what bids were being submitted to the Welsh Government.

 

The Corporate Director of Education said that as there had been several additional resources and funding opportunities over the spring term, it had been agreed with colleagues in Finance to produce one document that would highlight the resource and how that resource would be used.  A Briefing Note would be prepared to provide details of grant funding being received by the Directorate.

 

The Committee AGREED, subject to the foregoing, that the action sheet be noted.

6.

Estyn Thematic Review - Blaenau Gwent’s Response to COVID-19 pdf icon PDF 503 KB

To consider the report of the Corporate Director Education.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to the report of the Corporate Director of Education which was presented to provide Members of the Education and Learning Committee with an opportunity to review the Estyn Thematic Review report that outlines narrative on the corporate response to the COVID-19 situation, particularly supporting the schools during the emergency period.

 

The Corporate Director of Education spoke to the report and highlight the main points contained therein.

 

A Member referred to page 32 of the report and requested an update on the number of vulnerable pupils who attended hub provision between March and July. The Service Manager Inclusion confirmed that the current number stood at 120.

 

The Co-opted Member provided a response to the thematic review from a Headteachers perspective.  He said the last few months had been very challenging in relation to trying to maintain a good standard of education for pupils when so many of the staff had to isolate.  There had been two areas of rapid progress in Blaenau Gwent, the first being the considerable progress in using IT more effectively to support pupils with distance learning, the second was the level of collaborative working with schools and Local Authority Officers.  There had been clear consultation, and totally unified agreement on all major decisions.  This provided greater clarity for parents because there was a consistent approach from all schools and felt that it had helped to limit the spread of the pandemic.  It was pleasing to note that Estyn had recognised this level of support, collaboration and trust and hoped it would continue in the future.

 

A Member referred to the first paragraph of page 33 - ‘Neither the interim arrangements for the corporate director position or the lack of school improvement lead officer appear to have impacted negatively on the local authority’s ability to support schools during the pandemic’.  He felt it was important to mention that the current Director had taken over on a temporary basis at the beginning of the pandemic and felt the Director and all his staff should be congratulated on the work they had undertaken since the start of the pandemic. 

 

The Chair and Members of the Committee expressed their appreciation and agreed with their colleague’s comments.

 

A Member referred to the savings of £210,000.  The Corporate Director of Education clarified that the report highlighted the portfolio underspend at that point in time linked to cost reduction, they were not revenue savings but just the financial position at that point in time.  In relation to budget monitoring, the additional costs associated with Covid such as catering and cleaning were largely funded through Welsh Government support through the hardship fund, the Directorate would be in an adverse financial position.

 

A Member expressed his appreciation for the invaluable support for vulnerable learners from the Inclusion team and acknowledged the good work of the Youth Services team regarding the distribution of computers and dongles to allow youngster to get online.  He welcomed the Thematic Review report which highlighted the approach during the  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.

7.

EAS Business Plan 2021-2022 pdf icon PDF 465 KB

To consider the report of the Corporate Director Education.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to the report of the Corporate Director of Education which was presented for members to consider the full contents of the draft EAS Business Plan 2021-2022, as part of the regional consultation process. Through this activity, members will ensure that the plan enables appropriate support for schools and settings in Blaenau Gwent.

 

The new EAS Principal Challenge Adviser briefly introduced herself to Members.  There had been a change in EAS arrangements Hayley Davies-Edwards was the new Principal Challenge Adviser attached to Blaenau Gwent from January 2021.

 

The Assistant Director EAS spoke to the report and highlighted the main points contained therein.

 

The Co-opted Member stated that the EAS had adapted the way they worked and had adopted a more supportive role over the past year which had reduced the additional demand on how teachers provided additional support in delivering improved blended learning.  He had one concern with the business plan that related to the ambitious aim in relation to the new curriculum for Wales and felt it would be a shame to rush to implement it now at the expense of ensuring that all pupils had caught up and sought assurances that moving forward would not be at the expense of catching up.

 

The Assistant Director EAS responded that as a region they were responding to the national interpretation requirements of moving towards curriculum for Wales and saw it as an opportunity.  He acknowledged the sensitivity around the individual context of individual schools and the population they served, if pupils required different forms of support in order for them to re-learn some of the basics they may need, that would be appropriate within that individual school setting and the EAS and teams would support schools doing this.

 

In response to a Member’s questions regarding how the EAS would assess where children’s education was at present, and whether the Authority was getting value for money from the EAS.  The Assistant Director EAS said in relation to the data for accountability, in summer 2020 there were no assessments at Foundation Phase or Key Stage 2, and Key Stage 3, Key Stage 4 data was based on school assessments. In 2021 the Welsh Government were currently consulting on the reporting of data, the consultation closes at the end of March, so it was unlikely that there would be a full range of end of key stage data.  Critically schools knew their learners and the progress they need to make to return to learning.  The EAS would work with schools to support their understanding of where their learners are, he explained there were still, for example national tests available but the requirement to actually have to take those national tests on an annual basis had been modified, it was on a best endeavours basis during the year because learners had not been in school for much of the year to actually take those adaptive national tests.  What was critical was when schools used tools like that they are used in a  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.

8.

Inspire 2 Achieve and Work Performance Report January – December 2020 pdf icon PDF 527 KB

To consider the report of the Youth Service Manager.

Minutes:

Consideration was given to the report of the Youth Services Manager which was presented to provide Members with an opportunity to scrutinise the local Inspire 2 Achieve and Inspire 2 Work projects funded by the European Social Fund (ESF). These projects are part of the Youth Service team’s approach to reducing the numbers of young people becoming Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET).

 

The Youth Services Manager spoke to the report and highlighted the main points contained therein. 

 

A Member referred to paragraph 6.1.11 and the reduction of staff from 6.5 to 4.5 this year as two members of staff had temporarily supported the youth homelessness team and enquired regarding future funding for the service.  The Youth Services Manager explained that they had been successful in securing another years funding for the work linked to homelessness from the Welsh Government, the intention was that the two members of staff expressing an interest to remain within the youth homelessness team and recruit separately into the two vacant posts.  In relation to ESF, this was highlighted as a risk within the report and the team were in discussions with regional partners to look at funding coming from the UK Government called Shared Prosperity Funding.  There were also other avenues of funding being considered in the immediate short term but there were uncertainties regarding timings, however, the Youth Services Manager was fairly confident that funding would become available. 

 

In response to a Member’s question regarding training providers, the Youth Services Manager said they work closely with a number of training providers within the area, as part of the raising aspirations group partnership. They worked together to understand the needs of young people and to ensure that the training needed was available to them.  There were also alternative curriculum sites established where the team worked with young people in those settings.

 

The Committee AGREED to recommend that the report be accepted and endorse Option 1; namely that Members scrutinised the information detailed within the report, and recommend to the Executive Committee that the report be accepted.

9.

Welsh Public Library Standards (WPLS) Annual Return 2019/20 pdf icon PDF 540 KB

To consider the report of the Youth Service Manager.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to the report of the Youth Services Manager which was presented for Members to consider the attached report (appendix 1) received from the Museums, Archives and Libraries Division (MALD) of Welsh Government with respect to the third year of the Sixth Assessment Framework for the Welsh Public Library Standards (WPLS) return 2019/20.

 

The Corporate Director of Education spoke to the report and highlighted the main points contained therein.

 

A Member referred to page 91, quality indicator 9 and commented that the Leisure Trust had failed to meet its measure regarding reading material and he felt that coming out of the pandemic it was important that a variety and quality of reading was available for all ages, and also for reading for pleasure and for study.  He hoped that the investment shown in the report would come forward and there would not be a lack of provision for reading material and other media ways of learning. 

 

The Corporate Director of Education responded that they would report back on progress against the spend element of the book fund and also recognising the different access to reading and materials such as electronic versions.  This report would be presented to the Education & Learning Scrutiny Committee on an annual basis.

 

In response to a Member’s question regarding mobile libraries, the Partnerships, Funding and Contracts Manager said that currently two mobile library services were operational but during the pandemic only operated 3 out of 5 days per week.  After Easter the mobile library service would be fully operational 5 out of 5 days per week.

 

A Member commented that he welcomed a further report year on year to ensure that the book fund was utilised in the correct way.

 

The Committee AGREED to recommend that the report be accepted and endorse Option 1; namely that Members scrutinised the information detailed within the report and recommend to the Executive Committee that the report be accepted.

10.

Blaenau Gwent Education Admissions Policy for Nursery and Statutory Education 2022/23 pdf icon PDF 447 KB

To consider the report of the Education Transformation Manager.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to the report of the Education Transformation Manager which was presented to outline the outcome of the annual review and consultation process associated with the Blaenau Gwent Admissions Policy for Nursery and Statutory Education.  Education and Learning Scrutiny Committee are asked to provide their views and comments on the document in preparation for the 2022-23 admission round, prior to its determination and publication on the 15th April 2021.

 

The Education Transformation Manager spoke to the report and highlighted the main points contained therein.

 

The Committee AGREED to recommend that the report be accepted and endorse Option 1; namely that the policy document be accepted.

11.

Forward Work Programme: 20th April 2021 pdf icon PDF 397 KB

To receive the report.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to the report of the Chair of the Education & Learning Scrutiny Committee.

 

The Corporate Director of Education requested that due to the pandemic the report on Education Accessibility Strategy be moved to a future meeting to allow the Transformation Team more time to prepare the document and suggested that this could be replaced on the agenda with a Covid-19 update report.

 

The Committee AGREED, subject to the foregoing, that the report be accepted and endorse Option 1; namely that the report on Education Accessibility Strategy be moved to a future meeting and be replaced on the agenda with a Covid-19 update report.