To consider the report of the Corporate
Consideration was given to the report of the Corporate Director of Education, the Head of School Improvement and Inclusion, and the Service Manager – Education Transformation and Business Change, which was presented to provide Members with an opportunity to scrutinise the Education Directorate’s identified priorities for recovery and renewal, as part of the response to the COVID-19 situation.
The Head of School Improvement and Inclusion spoke to the report and highlighted the main points contained therein.
The Chair raised concerns regarding a recent request for all IT equipment issued to learners during COVID, was now being recalled and the affect this may have on vulnerable learners. The Service Manager Education Transformation and Business Change said IT equipment was not being formally recalled, but a review of equipment was being undertaken and schools had been asked to review their digitally disadvantaged learner data, to ensure that the Council could look to support upgrades with the existing equipment and ensure it was functioning correctly. Schools had been asked to continue to monitor, and where there was obvious pupil need the schools would not be expected to return any IT equipment until such time as a replacement device could be provided.
A Member felt that this was a big programme of recovery and raised several concerns including:-
• the number free school meal pupils;
• mental health of pupils;
• delays with the CAMS programme; and
• literacy and numeracy programmes with some parents unable to help their children with IT programmes.
He felt strongly that children must be given the best opportunities possible. The Head of School Improvement and Inclusion said that the Recovery and Renewal Plan was an evolving document, working closely with schools through a Strategic Group with Headteachers in order to keep abreast of any changes within their pupil population. Julia Carmichael had recently been appointed to the post of Service Manager for Inclusion and would focus on well-being which was reflected in the recovery and renewal plan. With regard to literacy and numeracy, grant funding from Welsh Government had focused on supporting those young people with identified gaps in their literacy and numeracy skills. The Directorate was supporting schools, along with the EAS, to enable them to develop literacy and numeracy skills of all young people and advised that some schools had ran parent classes to help parents if there was a return to the blended learning situation.
The Member reiterated his concerns, as the last set of figures were from 2019, and certain schools had numeracy levels of 33%, and for Members there was no new information available to consider, as there had not been any testing or Estyn inspections due to the pandemic and hoped that these pupils were not falling behind.
A Member referred to paragraph 2.4 of the report - Education Staff Training - Staff training needs aligned to operations are not all currently adapted to be delivered online e.g. first aid – and enquired when first aid would be taught in schools. The Head of School Improvement and Inclusion said that a number of schools had a first aid programme, which had been impacted by COVID. Some schools worked with St. John’s Ambulance to deliver training, she would discuss with schools whether first aid training could be restarted, taking into consideration current COVID restrictions.
The Member again referred to paragraph 2.4 of the report – Poverty – Family entitlement to benefits has increased across Blaenau Gwent and the region, including free school meals. Additional funding has been allocated to support these families, however, many schemes are not sustainable and so the ongoing impact will need to be assessed. He enquired regarding the schemes that were not sustainable.
The Service Manager Education Transformation and Business Change said that the COVID secure risk assessment restrictions placed pressure on those schemes continuing in the short term, but where they were able to be reintroduced in a safe way, they were looking to support schools to affect that change.
The Member agreed with paragraph 2.6 of the report and said it was an important message that the relationship between the Council and its schools was stronger than ever before.
The Director gave a brief overview of some of the key points raised by Members. He said the levels of families eligible for free school meals had increased, with just over 2,700 direct payments being made, that was directly correlated to the economic impact of COVID. Work would continue on the Pupil Development Grant (PDG) around providing support to individuals and groups of learners who were eligible for free school meals.
With regard to support for pupil well-being there were delays with the CAMHS service, however, there was counselling provision in place across schools and more resources were recently announced by the Welsh Government. The Youth Services team managed the counselling service, which provided information and support to children and young people across the school estate.
The Adult and Community Learning team as part of their basic skills agenda could support parents particularly around digital aspects of learning, to assist their children during blended learning.
The Director said a key strategic point in the recovery and renewal report was that learner progress was fundamental to all key priorities that had been identified. He advised Members that there would be a range of measures to demonstrate progress from the current response. The Recovery and Renewal report and Action Plan would be reported to Scrutiny Members on a regular basis.
The Chair enquired regarding schools paying for licences for digitally disadvantaged learners. The Service Manager Education Transformation and Business Change said they were asking schools for their current position to determine the financial issues. A financial exercise was being undertaken to scope out what would be required going forward to secure sufficient resource and if schools were in a position to be able to contribute. She clarified that the licences had not been withdrawn, they continued to be funded by Welsh Government up to the summer period.
The Committee AGREED to recommend that the report be accepted and endorse Option 1; namely that the report, associated documentation and proposed course of action be accepted.