The Committee scrutinised the following matters:-
Cabinet Board Proposals
4.1 Childcare Facilities within Schools in Neath Port Talbot
Members were updated on the current situation with regard to childcare facilities located on school sites. Members were also provided with a list of childcare provisions currently occupying surplus space within schools throughout the County Borough within appendix A to the circulated report.
Member’s queried how many children attended the services provided at each school. Officers explained that the information wasn’t available as the information was not collected; however officers provided information on the number of children that were registered.
Members complimented officers on their hard work within the department.
Following scrutiny, the Committee was supportive of the proposal to be considered by the Cabinet Board.
4.2 Pupil Attendance
Members were provided with information and data in relation to Neath Port Talbot pupil attendance and persistent absenteeism.
Members asked whether there was any data on unauthorised absences relating to non-attendance due to holidays. Officers highlighted that this had been a theme for many years. It was noted that data did not exist on this as schools’ only recorded authorised and unauthorised holidays. It was highlighted that this had previously been reported to the Committee.
Members asked whether they could do anything to help increase attendance. Officers explained that schools were very firm and refused requests for holidays during term time. In addition, the Director of Education had sent a letter to every family in Neath Port Talbot, explaining the importance of attendance at school which had made a positive impact.
The Chair informed the committee that a letter had been received from a Member of Neath Port Talbot Council highlighting that the authority had the joint-second lowest attendance figures compared with other Welsh authorities. The Committee was asked to consider having information on the comparative figures, to see if there were problems in particular schools and or areas which could be addressed. It was noted that it would be appropriate to raise this concern under this item and to allow Members an opportunity if they wished to take this concern further.
Officers explained that there would be absenteeism in all schools due to illness and that the Authority was proactive in improving attendance. It was noted that Neath Port Talbot were ranked at 19th Place last year; however 15th place was less than a third of a single percentage point. It was highlighted to Members that data could be perceived in many different ways. Officers also explained that the authority was doing excellent in concentrating on persistent absentees. Following this information, Members felt that they did not want to take further action in relation to the concern raised regarding attendance at schools.
Members asked if there was a school closure and children were moved to a different school as a result, would this affect their attendance. Officers confirmed that school closures did not go against pupil attendance figures.
Members asked would a child’s attendance rate be affected if they were to enter an external competition which had not been organised through the school. Officers informed Members that a report had previously been put before Members on this topic and in that instance the absence would be authorised. However, it was noted that each child’s attendance was monitored and if that child’s attendance was low then it would be at the discretion of the head teacher.
Members queried whether attendance would get worse if children were going on up to three holidays a year. Officers explained that prosecution rates were at an all-time high. It was noted that the Authority tracked all prosecutions and in two thirds of those prosecuted attendance of children improved.
Members asked whether schools looked at the experiences that the children may have during these holidays. Officers explained that each case is judged on its own merits. Members were reassured that there were no prosecutions for a child that had been on one holiday, it was for those that had been on numerous holidays.
The Cabinet Member thanked the head teachers for their efforts in aiming to improve pupil attendance and highlighted the importance continuing to improve attendance.
Following scrutiny, it was agreed that the report be noted.
4.3 Additional Learning Needs Statutory Processes
Members were provided with information in relation to Additional Learning Needs Reform (ALNET) and information and progress in relation to the LA Local ALNET Implementation Plan (LIP).
It was noted that a consultation was currently being undertaken on the Draft Additional Learning Needs Code until 22nd March, 2019. It was noted that this would result in timescales changing and would cause pressure on the Schools.
Members asked whether this would be cost neutral and highlighted that there would need to be teacher training, to help teachers identify whether a child had a condition at an early stage. Officers explained that it was not cost neutral and were in agreement with staff training being provided to teachers where extra support was required.
Members asked whether officers were confident at hitting the 2019 target. Officers confirmed that they were confident; however it would be a challenge for the Schools.
Members asked what the timescale would be. Officer confirmed that it was currently in transformation and would be rolled out in 2023. Therefore, for approximately three years there would be two different systems running at the same time.
Members asked whether there was ongoing work to train the Authority’s Legal Team. Officers explained that the Legal Department were looking at an easy read guide to help with this concern.
The Cabinet Member highlighted his concern in relation to the legal responsibility and cost implications.
It was asked that the easy read on the Draft Additional Learning Needs code Consultation Document be circulated to Members to allow Members to provide a response to be fed in to the consultation.
Following scrutiny, it was agreed that the report be noted.