The Committee considered the report of the Corporate Director of Resources, which provided progress towards achieving the key outcomes of the Council’s corporate performance framework and highlighted key messages to inform strategic priorities and work programmes. The report covered performance in and to the end of quarter two, July to September 2021 (for copy see file of minutes).
The Corporate Equalities and Strategy Manager was in attendance to present the report.
Councillor Crute referred to the proportion of young people undertaking an apprenticeship and indicated that the council were lagging behind both regionally and the nearest statistical neighbours and asked if there was a reason for this.
The Corporate Equalities and Strategy Manager responded that sometimes the comparative data was on a lag and needed to catch up, but the figure was higher than the northeast and nearest statistical neighbours a year ago, however, he would look into the comparative data.
Councillor Crute responded that scrutiny had carried out some work in relation to apprenticeships and there had been an issue between how far secondary schools and colleges worked with businesses in County Durham to ensure that demand lines were met.
The Corporate Equalities and Strategy Manager indicated that he would initially check the figures to ensure it was a comparative comparison.
Councillor Gunn referred to young people having access to good education, training and employment and indicted that education had been a huge problem in terms of access due to COVID. The issues which concerned her were children and young people’s access to good quality education and that schools were providing a hybrid model when children cannot attend school. She highlighted particular concerns relating to children with Special Educational Needs (SEND) which were considerable in terms of their access to a good education and including medical support. She asked about schools remaining open in terms of staff absences and asked the Head of Education and Skills to comment on the overall picture in County Durham regarding staff absences.
The Head of Education and Skills commented that he hoped schools would not go back to remote learning but he did foresee a situation where schools won’t be able to accommodate all year groups due to staffing levels. Before Christmas they had one school close for one day out of the 266 schools. In terms of the quality of the remote learning offer there was a huge variation across that number of schools, but schools had embraced this really well. He gave an example that if a year group had to go home on a Monday the children at home would be able to watch the lessons that were conducted in the school with the other children at that time. The number of schools offering this had increased over time but there were still issues regarding broadband connectivity, the DfE had changed their expectations and had produced a document this week that indicated that any children sent home, there was an expectation they would take part in live learning, but this was not always possible in all locations. There were some real challenges, particularly in primary schools to conduct live learning, some of the county’s secondary schools were better equipped for this. The networks for sharing practices were strong and they still had a number of maintained schools and a lot of networks in schools. They also had a good network infrastructure around academies, and all took part and shared information. They had one school closure this week that was due to the weather and not staffing.
Councillor Gunn indicated that her concerns were around what she had heard nationally that it would be better for children to be taught together rather than remote learning.
The Head of Education and Skills responded that he had met with unions this week and some schools did not have the space to double up classes and there was impact this would have on infection transmission. Whilst all the schools were open, some schools were struggling; in March schools would be entering the third year of managing COVID and raised concerns on the impact of this on school leaders and staff as it was a significant length of time.
The Chair commented that at a meeting last year they looked at educational health care plans and referred to page 70 of the report where it could be seen that in 2021 EHCP was around the 62% mark to be completed in the 20-week time period that was below the 76% average for the Northeast and well below the 83% for England. He advised members that himself and the Vice-Chair had discussed with the Overview and Scrutiny Officer that the EHCP be maintained on the work programme.
Resolved: That the overall position and direction of travel in relation to quarter two performance, the impact of COVID-19 on performance, and the actions being taken to address areas of underperformance including the significant economic and well-being challenges because of the pandemic be noted.