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Contact: Democratic Services 5100
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.
It was noted that no requests had been received for the simultaneous translation service.
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors G. Collier and D. Wilkshire.
Service Manager Inclusion
Declarations of Interests and Dispensations
To consider any declarations of interests and dispensations made.
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 the latest update on the Directorate’s response to the Covid-19 Pandemic.
The Welsh Government announced on the 5th March that more pupils were to return to face to face learning. The Directorate worked closely with Headteachers to adopt a common approach across the school estate for the wider return of learners and from 15th March that included all primary pupils attending their school full time. Year 11 learners attended from the same date, but there was a degree of flexibility for an element of remote learning and that was determined by the individual school and communicated to parents appropriately. There was also provision for year 10 pupils in preparation for Key Stage 4 assessments during the summer term. In addition to that all year 7, 8 and 9 learners were offered a full day check in session prior to the Easter holiday period to check on their progress and general well-being.
In relation to the position around positive Covid-19 cases, there were 5 schools that were affected, the number of positive cases for pupils was 5 and the number of positive staff cases, including one member of staff from Second Chances, was 4. Prior to the end of the spring term, the number of people affected due to self-isolation because they were categorised as being part of a contact group was 180 learners. The Director was anticipating an announcement from Welsh Government around a full return for face to face learning for all learners from 12th April. He confirmed that schools were well prepared for such a decision post Easter break and all schools had received the outstanding lateral flow tests for staff.
In response to a Member’s question regarding mobile testing units, the Director of Education confirmed the intention to bring mobile testing units back into Blaenau Gwent, he explained that it was likely there would be an increase in positive cases due to the Easter bank holiday and the return to face to face learning but assured Members that schools were well prepared and Covid secure risk assessments were in place.
To receive the Action Sheet.
The action sheet arising from the meeting of the Education & Learning Scrutiny Committee held on 9th March, 2021 was submitted, whereupon:-
Grant funds awarded to the Education Directorate
It was noted that, due to an error, Appendix 2 would be replaced on the Modern.Gov system following the meeting.
With regard to Tranche funding, the Director of Education advised that he would liaise with finance colleagues and provide an update for Members.
A Member enquired why PDG funding was not listed on Appendix 2, the Director of Education explained that Appendix 2 only listed funding received directly from the Welsh Government as per the original request, the PDG was administered through the EAS.
The Member felt that it was important to have information on the PDG’s funding as it was now assessed every 3 years and schools could see a significant decrease. The Director of Education advised Members that information would be provided regarding PDG funding for the years 2019/20 and 2020/21 for the next meeting via the Action Sheet and reiterated that it was administered by the EAS regionally. The Director explained that it was Welsh Government criteria that the PDG was issued through the regional consortia, however, the EAS used the information that was presented from the Council in relation to the number of pupils who were eligible for free school meals to determine the level of PDG issued to the Council. There had been an increase in the number of learners eligible for free school meals and the number who were receiving direct payments was approximately 1,700. The process was monitored weekly and application runs launched in line with requests from schools and liaising regularly with parents in order to meet the needs of the families.
A Member enquired if administration fees were taken from the grants listed. The Director said the Welsh Government did offer a very small amount of funding for the administration of the grant. The overall amount of delegated budget that was transferred directly to schools was approximately 86%.
The Chair referred to Appendix 1 and raised concern regarding the small amount of grants received for projects such as School Counselling and Schools Summer Activity Project. The Director of Education clarified that this amount was in addition to the Welsh Government funding already received for the School Counselling service, it recognised the extra demand against the service and would complement the budget already received. In relation to the £6,000 Schools Summer Activity Project this was linked to the School Holiday Enrichment Programme (SHEP) to support learners in school holiday periods. The Education Transformation Manager would share the outcome report from last year’s initiative to demonstrate some of the work that had been undertaken.
The Committee AGREED, subject to the foregoing, that the action sheet be noted.
To consider the report of the Corporate
Director of Education.
A Member referred to a conflict of interest as some Members of this Committee were also Members of the Planning, Regulatory & General Licensing Committee. The Director of Education said that, in his opinion, there would not be a conflict of interest as the discussion would cover the potential for remodelling of the current Pen y Cwm School building but would not focus on details from a planning perspective and felt that Members could engage and offer their views and opinions around the proposal.
Consideration was given to the report of the Corporate Director of Education which was presented to seek the views of Education and Learning Scrutiny Committee, in relation to the proposal to extend the capacity of Pen y Cwm Special School from 120 to 175 pupils, accommodating the demand for places. Education and Learning Scrutiny Committee will be a statutory consultee, should proposal to proceed to consultation be granted by Executive Committee.
The Director of Education introduced the report and highlighted the main points contained therein.
The Director of Education highlighted an amendment in the report to paragraph 2.13 in that the consultation is to conclude on Sunday 6th June 2021, not 6th May as identified in the report.
A Member enquired regarding additional staff if the school reached its fully capacity. The Director of Education said any additional staffing implications could be dealt with in the potential differential between the current budget and the proposed budget, which would be an additional £575,000, dependent upon the needs of learners, that component of budget would potentially need to fund additional staff to support learners in the setting.
A Member raised concerns regarding the small number of out of county placements being accommodated. The Education Transformation Manager said that the initial review had been undertaken by the Inclusion team, however, a more detailed review would be required going forward. Out of county placements were determined upon the needs and circumstances associated with each individual pupil and upon the initial review it was anticipated that the maximum number, at this point in time, that could be brought back into the Local Authority was 5. Where there was capacity and the individual pupil’s needs could be met within the Local Authority then the team would look to bring more out of county placements back to the Local Authority.
In relation to capacity the Director of Education informed Members that in the short term capacity was 175 pupils, phase 2 would consider the more medium to long term arrangements and the potential to further increase capacity in subsequent years.
A Member enquired if the capacity of 175 pupils would be sufficient in the near future or would the school be oversubscribed again with the increase in the number of ALN pupils. The Director of Education said the focus was on dealing with demand in the foreseeable future, but moving forward capacity at the school would need to be reviewed as part of phase 2. The Education Transformation Manager added that the focus was ... view the full minutes text for item 5.