Agenda and draft minutes

Children's Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Monday, 22nd March, 2021 7.00 pm

Venue: Virtual Meeting. View directions

Contact: Luciane Bowker  Democratic & Electoral Services Specialist


No. Item



To receive any apologies for absence.


There were no apologies for absence.


Minutes of Previous Meeting pdf icon PDF 319 KB

To confirm the Minutes of the Meeting held on 2 February 2021.



The Minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on 2 February 2021 were confirmed as a correct record and would be signed by the Chairman at a later date.


Matters arising

Councillor Mickleburgh asked for an update on the reasons for the high number of permanent exclusions (page 10) and for data in relation to the number of permanently excluded children in the Borough (including a breakdown of SEND, gender, age and ethnicity).  Sal Thirlway, Assistant Director Learning Achievement and Partnerships agreed to circulate this information to the Committee via email.


In relation to the comments arising from the Child Exploitation report, Adam Davis, Assistant Director for Children’s Social Care and Early Help agreed to include the data required at the last meeting in future reports in a Part 2 session.


Declaration of Interest

To receive any declarations of interest


There were no declarations of interest.


Public Question Time

To answer any public questions


A period of 30 minutes will be allowed for members of the public to ask questions submitted under notice.


The Council welcomes questions from members of the public about the work of this committee.


Subject to meeting certain timescales, questions can relate to general issues concerned with the work of the Committee or an item which is on the Agenda for this meeting.  For full details of the procedure for submitting questions please contact the Democratic Services Section on the numbers given below or go to


There were no public questions.


Member Question Time

To answer any member questions


There were no Member questions.


Review of Covid-19 response pdf icon PDF 350 KB

To receive and consider a report containing details of the service’s response to Covid-19.


Adam Davis presented the Review of Covid-19 Response report which was set out in agenda pages 17-24.


Some of the points made during the presentation are listed below:


·           During the pandemic Children’s Services continued to report to a range of forums and bodies, including the Department of Education (DfE), Berkshire West Safeguarding Children Partnership and Corporate Parenting Board (CPB);

·           One of the challenges in relation to social care had been to reach a balance between keeping the children protected and ensuring the safety and welfare of staff;

·           The majority of child protection visits continued to be face to face (95%);

·           There had been a reduction in the number of contacts received at the Front Door and also a reduction in the number of contacts that progressed on for a social care assessment.  However, in the last two weeks there had been an increase in the number of contact referrals;

·           Engagement with Looked After Children (LAC) and Care Leavers continued during the pandemic, with particular attention to Care Leavers during the Christmas period;

·           Engagement with Foster Carers continued and only one placement with a Foster Carer had to end because of Covid;

·           Ongoing communication and contact with schools was maintained throughout the pandemic, with weekly meetings and discussions with headteachers and senior school leaders about the management of schools and delivery of education in a pandemic context;

·           Schools were supported in relation to access to ICT and equipment to assist remote learning;

·           Schools were being supported to develop the Wellbeing for Education Return programme designed by the DfE;

·           Schools were supported in the development of the asymptomatic lateral testing;

·           Schools had continued access to the help provided by the School Improvement Team;

·           Support and guidance was given to schools in relation to the delivery of Free school meals;

·           Home to school transport continued to be provided to those eligible;

·           The mental health and wellbeing of children and young people was supported and included the provision of Kooth (an online counselling and emotional well-being support service provided for young people aged 11-18) and other material more appropriate for younger children;

·           There had been an amazing level of commitment and flexibility from the staff.  It was now important to mitigate the impact of working remotely, particularly for social workers.


During the discussion of the item the following comments were made:


·           In response to a question Adam Davis stated that one of the challenges had been relation to recruitment of staff to cover potential gaps as a result of Covid;

·           In response to a question Sal Thirlway stated that on reflection, taking stock at the beginning of the pandemic would have been beneficial, as the speed of changes from the central government was considerable;

·           Councillor Blumenthal asked about the uptake of Kooth and any feedback.  Adam Davis stated that this had been successful and it was agreed that any data would be shared with Members;

·           Councillor Clarke provided an update on the usage of Kooth:

·         during the period  1 July 2020 to 31st December  ...  view the full minutes text for item 60.


Diversity and Equality at Schools pdf icon PDF 435 KB

To receive and consider the Diversity and Equality at Schools report.

Additional documents:


Sal Thirlway presented the Diversity and Equality at Schools report which was set out in agenda pages 25-46.


Some of the points made by Sal Thirlway are listed below:


·           The School Improvement Service, as part of Learning Achievement and Partnerships commenced a programme with schools to respond to the issue of racial equity in schools which arouse following the death of George Floyd in May 2020 and other related incidents at the time;

·           The programme started in the 2020 summer term, engaging with schools and developing a work plan in partnership with schools;

·           Three key areas of focus were identified:

·           Learning – to understand the issues and improve awareness

·           Outcomes for pupils, staff and parents – to achieve positive change

·           Workforce – to promote a diverse workforce

·           The report contained the results of a Racial Equity Survey, to which 32 schools had responded.  This data was being used to shape the proposals;

·           This was the start of a journey hoping to achieve racial equity in schools.


During the discussion of the item the following comments were made:


·         Councillor Croy stated that the Committee had requested a review of how racism incidents are measured in schools in the Borough, in recognition of the fact that currently there is no way to compare and evaluate the situation because schools do not use the same report format and standards.  In his opinion the report was valuable but it did not address the issue of reporting racial incidents.  He was concerned that he could no longer find the reporting page in the internet; (subsequently Councillor Croy found the relevant page );

·         Sal Thirlway apologised that the report had not addressed the issue of reporting racial incidents in schools. However, he stated that schools were no longer obliged to report such incidents to the local authority, therefore the local authority was not able to compel schools to report back to the Council;

·         Sal Thirlway stated that it was hoped that this programme would build relationships with schools and encourage them to share their data with the local authority.  He also stated that the ambition was to have a consistent approach across the Borough;

·         In response to a question Sal Thirlway stated that 32 responses was an average level of response to a survey, especially in the context of the pandemic;

·         In response to a question Sal Thirlway stated that he was not aware of formal national standards for reporting racial incidents, there were guidelines;

·         Councillor Mickleburgh asked if other factors such as social-economic status, housing and family structure were going to be included for monitoring, along with ethnicity.  Sal Thirlway confirmed that the intention was to include other factors that influenced children’s lives;

·         Councillor Mickleburgh asked for a breakdown in the data relating to exclusions, such as gender and age; he also asked if there were examples of good practice in tackling this issues that the local authority could learn from.  Sal Thirlway agreed to provide this information to the Committee via email;

·         Councillor  ...  view the full minutes text for item 61.


Elective Home Education pdf icon PDF 173 KB

To receive and consider a report outlining details of Elective Home Education in the Borough.

Additional documents:


Sal Thirlway presented the Elective Home Education (EHE) report which was set out in agenda pages 47-68.


Some of the points made by Sal Thirlway are listed below:


·           The local authority had a statutory oversight of children and young people’s education, employment and training up to the age of 18, including those being home educated;

·           EHE was an active choice, and parents chose this option for a variety of reasons;

·           Since the pandemic started there had been an increase in the number of EHE, in line with the national picture;

·           Three main reasons had been identified for this increase:

·           Covid anxiety

·           Successful experiences of home education during lockdown

·           Consistency and stability – rather than stop/start throughout Covid, looking to return to school once the pandemic is over;

·           When families chose to home educate, the Education Welfare Service offered support to schools and families to make sure this was the right decision to deliver that child’s education, assessing suitability;

·           During the course of the autumn term the Education Welfare Service assessed the suitability of education to over 164 families of the 221 electively home educating and had made sure that all new families that decided to Electively Home Educate were seen to ensure they were making an informed decision and life choice (and not being off-rolled);

·           There were 57 families left to visit this academic year and then all families would have been visited either in person or virtually;

·           EHE families were not compelled to engage with the local authority, but most agreed to engage voluntarily;

·           The service was exploring the reasons why certain parts of the Borough had seen a higher number of families choosing to electively home educate their children.


During the discussion of the item the following comments were made:


·           It was noted that the figures for Bearwood Primary were missing from Fig 2 (page 50), Sal Thirlway agreed to provide this information;

·           Councillor Bray asked if the raising number of EHE registrations for Bohunt was because the school was off rolling children with low attendance and children who did not have good prospect for their exams; she also asked if parents were choosing to home educate their children because of concerns in relation to religious education and sexual education in schools;

·           Sal Thirlway stated that the service was trying to understand the reasons for the peak of EHE in Bohut, this was not yet known;

·           Sal Thirlway was not aware of religious or cultural reasons for EHE, he pointed out that parents had the option to remove their children from religious lessons;

·           In response to a question from Councillor Richards, Sal Thirlway stated that EHE was different from supporting remote home education during lockdown.  EHE was an active decision to remove children from school and educate them at home;

·           In response to a question from Councillor Richards, Sal Thirlway stated that should families decide to revert back to school education, they would have to follow a normal in-year school admission application process, there was no guarantee that  ...  view the full minutes text for item 62.


Forward Plan

To consider the Committee’s Forward Plan for the next municipal year.


The Chairman informed that the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee would be considering the suggestions that had been put forward for the next municipal year at its next meeting.


Members considered the list of items that were within the agenda for Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee.


Councillor Croy believed that the Committee should be able influence plans/policies and not just review items.


Councillor Bray stated that it would be good to be able to consider Children’s Services strategies at an early stage, as part of the Committee’s work programme.


Members noted that the Committee’s membership could change in May and it was important to maintain flexibility within the work programme.


Carol Cammiss stated that the work undertaken by Children’s Services was heavily regulated and statutory, therefore there was an element of repetition.


Councillor Helliar-Symonds informed that Executive Members would be invited to the first Overview and Scrutiny meeting in the new municipal year, in order to discuss their plans for the year ahead.


Members asked to review the Secondary School Strategy and the school admissions allocations at an early stage.




1)     The Committee endorsed the suggestions being considered at the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee;


2)     The Committee wishes to influence new policies and strategies through pre-decision scrutiny of draft proposals relating to Children’s Services;


3)     The work programme will remain flexible and open to new suggestions.