The Democratic Services Officer submitted a report to provide information in respect of the scheduled attendance of Members of the Executive at the Overview and Scrutiny Board (OSB). It was intended for Executive Members to provide updates on their respective work in terms of their aims, aspirations, objectives, priorities and any emerging issues.
The Chair welcomed Councillor J Brunton, the Executive Member for Education and Skills, to the meeting.
The Executive Member advised the Board as follows:-
Weekly meetings were held with the Director of Children's Services and fortnightly meetings with Assistant Directors that were connected to the Education and Skills portfolio. There was some cross over between the portfolios for the Executive Member for Children's Social Care and the Executive Member for Communities and Public Health which included school readiness, early years, libraries and literacy and as a consequence, the Executive Member held regular meetings with the two Executive Members. Six weekly meetings were held to discuss issues surrounding virtual schools which were schools that aided educational achievement for Looked After Children (LAC).
The authority was currently looking at education for children, particularly those that lived out of the area.
The Executive Member regularly attended the School Management Forum which provided an opportunity for all Head Teachers and private nurseries to discuss matters such as funding support and other challenges.
The Executive Member was also currently the Chair of the School Standards Monitoring Group. The Board was advised that If schools were not meeting their targets, the matter would be discussed with the appropriate Head Teacher or members of staff to see what could be put in place in order to support the school to raise achievement. The Chair of the Children and Learning Scrutiny Panel also attended this meeting.
The Executive Member was also a School Governor at Acklam Grange, Complementary Education and Kings Academy and as part of her role as Executive Member, schools were visited on a regular basis.
Attended seminars and conferences in the role of Executive Member.
Member of Literacy Trust Steering Group. Attended workshops where Members took their favourite books.
Schools paid for benches and had them painted as children's characters. Currently trying to obtain funding for benches around the town.
The Executive Member advised that literacy levels in Middlesbrough were low and assistance was needed to help deal with the issue. A report was due to be submitted to the Executive Committee with regard to strategies on how to improve literacy.
Chair of RTMAT (PRU) - the Executive Member provided an explanation with regard to Multi Academy Trusts;
It was commented that some of the parents in Middlesbrough were unable to read. The Executive Member advised that a number of schools held parents groups to assist parents to read/write and learn maths. Community Learning were currently facilitating these groups. The Job Centre also arranged for adults to attend employability courses which assisted adults with reading and writing and to help adults learn the skills required to apply for jobs.
A Member suggested that book swaps could be arranged and different nationalities could be encouraged to be involved. The Executive Member advised that she would raise the issue at the next Literacy Trust meeting.
A member queried how many schools were offering literacy skills lessons for parents and she requested figures on the take-up. The Executive Member advised that from her experience it was mainly primary schools.
The Board was advised that Middlesbrough primary school results were not as good as expected. Some of the children entered school at a low base and had failed to catch up. The department had submitted a bid to enable the authority to look at how it could improve achievement. A consultation was currently underway in relation to bringing school specialists in to various primary schools to improve literacy. It was highlighted that there were lots of outstanding teachers in Middlesbrough but there was a reluctance to let teachers move around. Some schools were taking on specialist staff to deal with non-education issues to allow the teachers to concentrate on educating the children. There had been some improvement in primary schools however there had been a big change in the curriculum so it was anticipated this could have a detrimental effect on the improvement in outcomes.
A member queried with regard to what mechanisms had been put in place to evaluate whether being a part of a Multi Trust was beneficial. The Executive Member advised that some Multi Trust Academies appeared to work well but others were not as effective. Officers would ask the question when visiting schools, but the way in which a Multi Trust Academy worked was usually down to the standard of teaching and best practice.
The results of secondary schools had improved the previous year. Consultants had been invited into the schools to look at teaching methods. It was anticipated that the results for the coming year would not be as positive as the previous year and there was no further funding available to employ consultants. Support was being offered from the local authority and schools were being requested to share best practice and training. If academies were not making progress then the academies division could be informed. The academies division provided feedback to the local authority on any issues in relation to academies that the local authority had raised.
A member requested further information in respect of virtual schools. The Executive Member advised that virtual schools aided educational achievement for Looked After Children (LAC). The team were experienced professionals who liaised with other agencies in order to improve academic excellence for LAC in Middlesbrough. They provided a consistent educational point of contact to ensure that the child's progress was tracked. LAC in Middlesbrough were performing better than the national average.
In response to a query with regard to whether teachers from different schools visited other schools, the Executive Member advised that teachers sometimes visited a school for an afternoon of professional development and it provided them with an opportunity to speak to other staff. Very few schools allowed their staff to spend longer periods in other schools but this was subject to consultation. Some schools had cameras in the classroom which enabled other teachers to view individual lessons. Some academies had teachers that visited multi trusts on a rotation basis.
In response to a query with regard to the evaluation of school improvement, it was commented that exam results were often used as a parameter but schools moderated exams in different ways. A member queried whether other aspects of school life were used in assessing the success of schools. The Executive Member advised that the Government looked at school attainment.
There was currently high levels of absence in some schools and the number of exclusions was relatively high. The Executive Member requested the Overview and Scrutiny Board to arrange for a scrutiny investigation into school exclusions.
A member queried with regard to what happened if a pupil was excluded and was transferred to a Pupil Referral Unit. The Executive Member advised that pupils ideally should only spend a short time at a Pupil referral Unit but some schools were reluctant to take a child back into school. From September to December the number of pupils had doubled from the previous year. Excluded pupils who were not able to be placed in a Pupil Referral Unit were entitled to a few hours home tuition a day. The ratio at Pupil Referral Units was greater because of the complexity of the issues of the pupils attending. Pupil Referral Units staff usually included teaching staff, a teaching assistant and a member of staff to deal with behavioural issues. The classes in Pupil referral Units were usually smaller and lessons were shorter and any time taken out of class by a pupil had to be made up.
Some schools provided additional support to pupils on their return from the Pupil Referral Unit but this was dependant on the resources available in individual schools.
A meeting was to be held with the Head of the Pupil Referral Unit to look at the system for exclusions. One proposal was that each school would be allowed a set number of exclusions per year and would have to pay towards any pupil exceeding the schools set amount. If the proposal was to go ahead, all secondary schools would have to agree.
There was currently a waiting list for the Pupil Referral Units. The problem was prevalent in Middlesbrough because of issues with mental health problems and alcohol and drug misuse. There was currently not enough agencies available to deal with the high level of excluded pupils. The Tees Valley authorities had submitted a bid for a Free School in Middlesbrough which could alleviate some of the issues. The school if agreed would be a new build and could be based across two sites.
In terms of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), if a child did not wish to go to CAMHS, their name was removed from the list. Some schools employed their own staff to provide counselling as there had been issues in recruiting Educational Psychologists.
A consultation was ongoing which was looking at reducing funding in schools and for some schools in Middlesbrough, it would have a huge impact. The issue had been raised at the Schools Management Forum and it had been agreed that the Government should be lobbied on this issue. The local member of Parliament had also agreed to raise the issue in Parliament. Primary schools in Middlesbrough were struggling with funding issues and some were holding events to raise funding for school books.
A member commented that the Government were trying to make funding more even across schools in the country and some schools were receiving additional funding. The Executive Member commented that the formula for school funding was not correct and local authorities were lobbying to get it changed.
The Executive Member advised that the portfolio for Education and Skills also had responsibility for Community Learning.
The Chair thanked the Executive Member for her contribution to the meeting.
ORDERED that a scrutiny investigation into the topic of school exclusions be arranged.