Agenda item

Priorities and Challenges for Children's Services in 2018-19

Senior Children’s Services officers will present the key priorities and challenges for the department in 2018-19 to help inform the Committee’s work programming.


Steve Miley, Director for Children's Services, gave a presentation on the key priorities and challenges for the department over the coming year. He started with the department's vision:


"To improve the lives and life chances of our children and young people;

intervene early to give the best start in life and promote wellbeing;

ensure children and young people are protected from harm;

and that all children have access to an excellent education and achieve their potential.

All of this will be done whilst reducing costs and improving service effectiveness."



Steve then talked about the population and demographic profile of the borough – child poverty was relatively high at 29.7%, the child population was diverse with 46% being from a BME background, and nearly half of all school children had English as an additional language.



Steve highlighted some of the headline figures for safeguarding – in 2017-18 the department had 4208 contacts, 1651 referrals, 1496 children in need, 135 child protection plans, and 230 children in care.


Key challenges

Steve then talked about the key challenges for the service. The central challenge of 2018 had been setting up a new sovereign department after the Council came out of the ‘tri-borough’ service sharing arrangements. As part of this process there had been a reorganisation of services - with a new department, Public Services Reform, taking over the commissioning function from Children's Services.


Education overview - Jan Parnell

Jan Parnell, the Assistant Director for Education, reported on the borough’s schools and educational challenges. She noted that Hammersmith & Fulham had 94 percent good or outstanding schools (as judged by Ofsted) - a strong base to work from. She said she wanted to develop relationships with heads and give them a shared leadership role in partnership with the Council. Her goal was for schools to be advisors to each other with peer reviews, mentoring from outstanding schools etc. The education department would have a facilitator / coordinator role and provide expertise where necessary.


The key challenges for education were the ongoing funding pressures on schools. The ‘National Funding Formula’ moved money from London to the Counties. While there had been small increases in funding from the Government, it didn’t match the increase in their costs. Another key challenge was more children with high levels of need, and more complex needs in general. Another key area was the school estate. Some of the school buildings were ’less than satisfactory’. Officers were working on development ideas to design a sustainable estate for the future.


Kevin Gordon noted that school expansion in past years had led to a surfeit of primary school places. Over the last 5-10 years the Council had maintained a surplus in preparation for new developments but this presented problems for schools - both in terms of funding and the impact to their overall maintenance costs. Kevin added that officers were working on the School Organisation and Development Plan which covered place planning and the estate and suggested it would be an important document for the Committee to provide a view on.


Family Services overview - Bev Sharpe

Bev Sharpe, the Assistant Director for Family Services, gave a presentation on the borough’s children’s social care work. She noted that there were 130 social workers in the department managing a caseload. Safeguarding was their key concern. Wherever there was a referral to the department, they would investigate to ensure that the basic needs of the child were being met. Bev also spoke about the other teams within Family Services - the Care Leavers team that supported young people after they left the care placements, and the Youth Offending service which worked to divert young people away from more serious criminal activity. The department also housed the Fostering and Adoption service which was a shared service but was managed and based in Hammersmith.


Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) overview - Mandy Lawson


Mandy Lawson, Assistant Director for SEND, gave a presentation on the SEND department and their key challenges. She noted that 20 percent of all children in the borough had some level of SEND support. 4.8 percent of the child population had Education Health and Care (EHC) plans for more complex levels of need.


The SEND services incorporated:

·         The EHC planning service and the statutory SEN service.

·         The Preparation for Adulthood team - a new 0-25yrs team so care planning would take place all in one service. Mandy noted that this was in response to the recommendations of a scrutiny task group made up of Councillors and parents of disabled children.

·         The Educational Psychology service which provided specialist advice to schools and the EHC planning process.

·         Specialist teaching services for children who were deaf, had autism, dyslexia etc. Other boroughs including Camden, Ealing, and Kensington and Chelsea bought into this service.

·         The Local Offer - which was a website where parents can find information about SEND services for children and young people.

·         The disabled children service and short breaks service - This included the new Steven Wiltshire Centre, a new Centre for disabled children and their families. It was the first point of contact for families and the team there helped them get the support they needed and navigate the (very complex) system. In just a few short months since opening, welcome events at the Centre had led to 100 new families (not previously known to us) registering with our SEND services.


Mandy also noted that the borough was home to four excellent special schools, Queensmill, Jack Tizard, Cambridge, and Woodlane High School. The Council also ran a successful supported internship programme and preparation for employment was a key area for the service.


Mandy also highlighted the following issues for the Committee to consider: 

·         A SEND Inspection was due in the next two years and would be a major area of focus for the department.

·         The upcoming SEND inclusion strategy - that set out what the priorities were and how the Council would deliver it’s SEND inclusion agenda.

·         The joint commissioning strategy.

·         How to tackle ever rising demand with fewer resources - and keeping quality of provision high.


Committee questions and discussion

The Chair invited the Committee to ask officers questions about their service areas. 


Councillor Lucy Richardson noted that the Council was moving away from the tri-borough arrangements and asked what it was doing to replace SEND training for teachers. Mandy Lawson replied that within the specialist teaching outreach service there was enhanced SENCO support and increased capacity for SEND training. Hammersmith also housed the Lila Husset professional development centre. Councillor Richardson suggested developing peer to peer training could be an area for the Committee. 


Nandini Ganesh, Parentsactive representative, noted the issue of growing demand for SEND services and asked if the increase was felt across all schools, including Academies. She felt many Academies didn’t offer the right level of support for SEND students. Mandy Lawson said the increase was primarily in the primary sector, where the majority of schools were still maintained. Hammersmith & Fulham needed to support all its schools to be inclusive. There was a lot of work to do to teach what level of need necessitated an EHC plan, or a special school place. Officers were also hoping to address the 0-5yrs piece by supporting parents to be more confident in mainstream schools, and getting children to be school ready. A related issue was the extension of the upper end of the age range from 19 to 25. A number of people were continuing in education to 25. The Chair suggested the Committee could be involved in that strategy.


Councillor Mark Loveday asked what the process and timescales were for the School Development and Organisational Strategy - and when was the best time for the Committee to have an input. Kevin Gordon said it started with the collation of pupil projection data in April / May this year. The Analysis would take place in the Autumn and the major themes would be pulled. Officers could then present to the Committee in October on pupil flows and the realities of the state of stock, costs, opportunities etc. A draft of the document would be ready by the end of the year. As well as engage the Committee, officers would also be consulting schools and, potentially, with residents.


Vic Daniels, Parent Governor representative, asked if schools had up to date conditional surveys and whether the Council was considering identifying issues early and investing to save money over the longer term. Kevin Gordon said schools did have conditional surveys on file from 2015 - and officers were looking to shift to a proactive maintenance programme. Steve Miley noted that he was speaking with Council colleagues in the regeneration department about reinvesting in the school estate. Those proposals could come to the Committee for input ahead of a decision at Cabinet.


Vic Daniels asked if the 20 percent of pupils in the borough who had SEND support included Academy schools - and how easy were Academies to engage with SEND inclusion. Mandy Lawson said it came down to relationships - they do engage, the Council has services they need. The key for officers was to work together with them and their SENCOs.


Councillor Asif Siddique asked if officers could provide more detail around how the Council planned to improve schools’ income generation. Kevin Gordon said it meant schools renting their space and selling their specialisms to other schools and organisations. Steve Miley added that a number of Local Authorities had already done this and officers were speaking to them about opportunities to take forward.


Councillor Asif Siddique noted the reduction in referrals to Family Services and asked if this was a general trend or the result of some action taken. Bev Sharpe replied that it was due to a new way of managing the service. The Council brought in Professor David Thorpe who carried out detailed research on social work processes and practice. The key change he introduced was, rather than have referrers (often teachers, doctors, the police etc.) fill out a detailed form and assessment that would then be automatically investigated - a social worker will have a 20-minute phone call with them to better understand the concerns about the family and signpost to lower level support services that could help without a statutory assessment. It worked better for everyone involved. There would be a full evaluation of this in November which could come to the Committee for review.


The Chair said he would like a whole meeting focussed on knife crime and serious youth violence - and noted that he wanted to invite a cross-section of the community including parents, the Police, TRA Chairs, headteachers etc.


Councillor Lucy Richardson noted that officers had mentioned working more closely with health partners (Hammersmith CCG etc.) and asked if they were engaging. Steve Miley said they had recently had the first meeting of a joint inclusion board looking at how well we’re meeting the needs of children with SEND. It was a multi-agency group focussed on children with disabilities and it included parents, CAMHS, Public Health, and the CCG. He said there were a lot of opportunities to improve the way the agencies worked, and worked together. The Chair asked for a representative to provide regular feedback to the Committee.


Councillor Mark Loveday requested that any Ofsted report for a school that gets a ‘Requires Improvement’ rating come to the Committee for review. 


The Chair asked what the Committee could do to support the upcoming SEND inspection and Ofsted inspections. Bev Sharpe noted that there was a new Ofsted framework now so officers were learning from other authorities who have been through it. She added that officers had their annual conversation with Ofsted last week and it went well. The department has completed a self-assessment document that could come to the Committee for review. At the last inspection in 2016, Hammersmith & Fulham’s Children’s Services department received a ‘good’ with outstanding features. The Chair asked to see the action plan for improvements following the 2016 inspection. Steve Miley noted that officers would have benchmarking data soon that the Committee could look at to pull out areas for concern.


Nandini Ganesh asked if the supported internship programme would be expanding next year. Mandy Lawson said the current cohort of 12 would be increased to 14 next year. In addition, Queensmill School were launching their own programme next year in conjunction with Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. Residents would also be able to access a number of placements in other boroughs.


The Cabinet Member for Children and Education, Councillor Larry Culhane, addressed the Committee - noting that while leaving the ‘tri-borough’ was a major change it presented the borough with some big opportunities to improve the way things are done. Education, for example, had seen huge changes over the last 10-15 years, but now the service was sovereign again and the estate was more stable, H&F would be looking at what can be improved and what could be done to support schools. The sovereign service would be more reactive and agile in responding to the needs of our parents and teachers.


Councillor Culhane was keen to stress the importance of working across Council departments and with partners to achieve the Council’s goals. Challenges like teacher recruitment and retention would not be solved by Children’s Services alone but in conjunction with Housing, Regeneration, and development partners. The problem of serious youth violence would need the involvement of the whole community - and the Committee should ensure young people themselves were at the heart of these conversations.


The Chair directed the Committee’s attention to the Youth Council’s priorities set out in their manifesto for 2018/19. He highlighted work experience that had been raised a number of times before, and tackling the stigma of mental health. Councillor De’Ath led a task group on mental health support for young people under the previous administration and asked for a report on progress against the recommendations of that group.


The Chair also noted that he would like themed meetings (SEND, youth violence etc.) - and suggested holding some in relevant venues like special schools.